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Knesset Committee Discusses Potential Allotment of Visas for Foreign Cleaning Workers

The Israeli Association of Cleaning Companies has demanded permission to bring in foreign workers in the sector | Companies cannot offer workers more than minimum wage for work in public services, making recruitment of domestic workers nearly impossible

עובדי ניקיון במרכז רפואי שיבא ברמת גן (צילום: יוסי זליגר/פלאש90)
Cleaning workers at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan (Photo: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
By Nizzan Zvi Cohen

A meeting of the Knesset’s Special Committee on Foreign Workers concluded that the Ministry of Finance must reassess the cost proposed by the state for cleaning services, which does not allow cleaning companies to offer wages higher than the minimum wage. The demand was issued by committee chairman MK Eliyahu Revivo (Likud) after the committee’s January 30 meeting. Avi Mizrahi, chairman of the Israeli Organization of Cleaning Companies (IOCC), said in the committee: "The state dictates that wages in the sector will be at least the minimum wage. We signed a collective agreement, but the state refuses to sign an extension order."

The discussion in the committee touched on the IOCC’s request for an allocation of visas to bring in foreign workers to work in the sector, due to the Israeli Employment Service's view that it is impossible to attract domestic workers at minimum wage, especially for public services, in which contractors are not permitted to offer workers salaries higher than the minimum wage. "A cleaner in a hotel or restaurant earns 75 shekels [$20.43] per hour, and in public services – 30 shekels [$8.17] per hour," said Veronica Rosenberg, CEO of the IOCC. “So why would they work for us? Do you know anyone who wants to work in cleaning for minimum wage? We don't."

According to representatives of the cleaning companies who spoke at the committee meeting, they have difficulty receiving referrals from the employment service, and most of the workers who come through the service only want them to sign forms stating that they are not suitable for work, so as not to lose the right to unemployment benefits, but are not really interested in integrating into the industry.

Revivo clarified to the representatives of the cleaning companies who came to the discussion that hiring foreign workers is in any case more expensive than paying minimum wage, as it also entails additional expenses for their recruitment, accommodation, insurance, and more. Therefore, he called on cleaning companies to approach the Employment Service in an attempt to recruit domestic workers at a higher wage of more than 35 shekels ($9.53) per hour and to update the committee if this does not help clarify the need for foreign workers in the sector.

Revivo further called on the IOCC to conduct a study to examine whether hiring foreign workers in the sector is feasible at all, and in what volumes – due to the additional costs involved. "The wages of foreign workers are higher than those of Israeli workers. Our discussion is intended to examine whether you have the capability and economic feasibility. I need to hear from a cleaning company owner who can afford to pay 40 or 50 shekels per hour."

Mizrahi clarified that cleaning companies are already spending large sums of money on transportation for cleaning workers from East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to the center of the country, where workers are lacking. He added that some service providers, including some local authorities, refuse to accept Arab workers from East Jerusalem, raising concerns from MK Sasson Guetta (Likud) that bringing in foreign workers would serve to replace local workers in the sector.

Lital Ayalon from the Human Resources Department for government-run hospitals said that they, who currently employ cleaning staff directly, are also facing difficulties in recruiting cleaning staff, especially in the central region, and are interested in exploring the option of bringing in foreign workers. The representative from the Ministry of Justice in the discussion, attorney Lina Salam, clarified that hiring foreign workers as government employees contradicts the State Service Regulations, and that the government has not concluded internal discussions regarding its position on the matter.

"It should be taken into account that increasing the volume of foreign workers affects not only competition for positions but also aspects of regulation regarding enforcement, verification that they do not remain in the country permanently, issues of health insurance, and commitment to international standards," added Salam. "The consequences of such decisions are fateful."

Revivo called on the relevant government ministries to hold discussions within two weeks to formulate the government's stance regarding the possibility of bringing foreign workers into the cleaning sector in government hospitals, and for the country’s HMOs to provide the committee with data on their staffing shortages.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Ben Markbreiter.

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