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After Refusing To Raise Wages for Israeli Cleaners, Knesset To Discuss Bringing Foreign Workers Into Cleaning Industry

An agreement forged by the Histadrut to increase cleaners’ wages to 22% above minimum wage has been in limbo for three years | Israeli Organization of Cleaning Companies warns of a national shortage of cleaners

הפגנת עובדי הניקיון בתל אביב (צילום: ניצן צבי כהן)
Cleaners demonstrating in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)
By Nizzan Zvi Cohen

The Knesset’s Special Committee on Foreign Workers is expected to consider the possibility of bringing foreign workers into the Israeli cleaning industry, particularly to work in hospitals. The issue is scheduled for discussion despite the state’s refusal to sign an expansion order to improve wage conditions in the cleaning industry, which could help recruit more Israeli workers.

In the lead up to the committee’s discussion, the Israeli Organization of Cleaning Companies (IOCC) sent a letter stating that the association had complied with the request of the Treasury and held a series of processes in an attempt to recruit Israeli workers to the industry, which were unsuccessful.

The association’s CEO, Veronica Rosenberg, and its chair, Avi Mizrahi, wrote that the head of the Israeli Employment Service had concluded that it is almost impossible to recruit new workers for cleaning at minimum wage.

“However, the one who sets a low and unequal wage for cleaning work is the largest customer of the services—the State of Israel,” Rosenberg and Mizrahi wrote.

The IOCC described a shortage of about 42,000 cleaning workers in the economy and asked the special committee to approve a quota of 5,000 foreign workers.

The Histadrut and the IOCC signed a collective agreement in November 2021 to raise wages in the industry to at least 22% above the fixed minimum wage, alongside additional benefits such as seniority bonuses for employees. This agreement had the power to make the industry more attractive.

The condition for the agreement to enter into force is the Minister of Labor’s signature on an expansion order, which will make it valid for all cleaning companies in Israel—but the Ministry of Finance opposes this, with the aim of keeping wages low and reducing public spending on cleaning services. Since the industry has low profit margins and is based on tenders, it is not possible for the companies to raise the salary except as part of a move to sign an expansion order.

The Foreign Workers Committee is expected to focus on the issue of employing foreign workers in the field of cleaning in hospitals. The discussion is being held following a request from Clalit, Israel’s largest healthcare provider, that claimed that it was having difficulty recruiting personnel for cleaning and housekeeping duties in its hospitals, including after using contracting services.

“The housekeeping and cleaning work is critical work, the performance of which is extremely important for the functioning of any medical center, to prevent infections, the spread of diseases and epidemics, and to maintain the health of patients and staff,” wrote Eitan Shleifer, head of Clalit’s procurement division.

Precisely for these reasons, in 2016, following agreements with the Histadrut, Clalit began directly employing cleaners—since their work is part of the core of the hospitals’ operations. Clalit’s request to admit foreign workers and its statement that it operates through contractor companies in an attempt to recruit Israeli workers constitute a withdrawal from these agreements.

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