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What social rights do foreign workers have in Israel? (important legal information)

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers live in Israel, and yet they and their employers are often unaware of all the laws and rules concerning workers’ rights. Our firm often handles cases in which employees are not given their basic rights by law. These rights include suitable accommodations, adequate wages, statutory social benefits, etc. Failure to grant these rights may result in compensation payments and even criminal prosecution. For this reason, it is important to understand all the rights that foreign workers are entitled to. This article presents a broad overview of the subject by an attorney specializing in labor law and the area of foreign workers in particular.

Our firm, with offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specializes in labor law and Israeli immigration law, and provides comprehensive legal services in the area of foreign workers. Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing foreign workers and their employers. Our services include representing clients in the processes of applying for work visas and employment permits in Israel, exercising foreign workers’ rights, resolving labor disputes, and more.

Foreign workers’ rights in Israel

Why must foreign workers and their employers be thoroughly familiar with the workers’ rights?

The State of Israel has attracted many foreign workers in recent decades. Hundreds of thousands of people from many countries are interested in coming to work in Israel. This is influenced by, among other things, high wages, diverse employment opportunities (in industries such as nursing, construction, hotels, agriculture, etc.) and the geographical proximity to Europe, Africa and the Far East. However, in reality, only a small number of workers who come to Israel are aware of all their rights, and even those who are aware of them often face difficulties when trying to exercise them.

It is important both for the employers and for the employees themselves to know the full extent of their rights. Employees must know what benefits and social rights they are entitled to by law so that they can make full use of them. From the employers’ side, it is equally important to know what rights their employees are entitled to, because violation of employees’ rights or failure to grant them may be grounds for compensation claims by the employees, and even criminal prosecution in some cases. Below we will explain these rights in detail and explain how they can be exercised.

Suitable accommodations

The Foreign Workers Law, which was enacted with the aim of regulating foreign worker employment in Israel from a legal standpoint, defines the employment conditions which employers must uphold. One of the main issues that this law addresses is the issue of foreign workers’ accommodations. Naturally, foreign workers are often unfamiliar with the local language and culture, limiting their ability to find suitable accommodations on their own. Accordingly, the law defines basic living conditions that must be met by a foreign worker’s residence, and it is on the employers to ensure that these conditions are met. Employers are obligated to arrange accomodations that meet these living conditions, and failure to fulfill this obligation may result in criminal prosecution, fines and even imprisonment.

What are defined as adequate living conditions? In the specific regulation on this issue you can find a complete list of conditions and items which must be present in foreign workers’ residences. The list includes, among other things, adequate electric lighting, electric heating and ventilation, a refrigerator, sleeping quarters with an area of at least 4 square meters, a toilet and shower within a reasonable distance, and a kitchen with utensils. It is important to note that depending on the specific field of employment and each individual case, the conditions above may vary. For example, there are some specific cases in which employers can request an exemption from providing suitable accommodations. However, even if the employers receive an exemption, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs (responsible for approving the exemption) can order that the employees receive payment for the purpose of finding suitable accommodations.

Additional employment conditions

As mentioned above, accommodations are only one of the employment conditions that foreign workers’ employers are obligated to provide by law. The list of employment conditions also includes medical insurance that employers are obligated to provide for their employees. Some of the other conditions include: paying the employees minimum wage (or higher), setting a weekly rest day for them, paying them overtime if they exceed the number of work hours established by law, reimbursing travel expenses, etc.

By law, all the foreign workers’ employment conditions must be specified in their employment contract. Here too, failure to comply with the legal requirements may result in criminal sanctions and serve as a cause for the foreign workers to sue their employers. It is important to know that the Population and Immigration Authority works to enforce this matter by performing inspections to check on employers and workplaces. Because of this, employers would be wise to keep records of payment and proof of fulfilling the various employment conditions to prove their compliance with the legal requirements.

Making a monthly deposit

Foreign workers usually come to Israel temporarily. As a result, they are not entitled to an Israeli pension. Over the years, an alternative was created which requires employers to make a monthly deposit for their foreign workers, in most employment sectors (including the construction, nursing, hotel and industrial sectors). This deposit is put in a designated bank account which the Population and Immigration Authority opens for each employee. The deposit is made up of a pension component and a severance pay component. When the foreign workers legally terminate their employment and must leave the country, they are entitled to withdraw the full deposit, after deducting management fees and income tax.

In some cases, it is possible to withdraw the deposit at an earlier date, before departing from Israel. This happened, for example, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Israel: in order to help asylum seekers working in Israel, it was decided to allow them to withdraw their deposits early. With that said, foreign workers should know that illegally staying in Israel may result in fines which will be deducted from the deposit that they are to receive. As a rule, foreign workers who stay in Israel for more than 6 months following the expiration of their visa do not receive their deposit. This sanction is intended to prevent foreign workers from illegally staying in Israel.

Legally terminating employment

Foreign workers’ rights in Israel apply not only during the period of their employment, but also during the procedure of terminating that employment. Dismissing foreign workers must be done according to the law. This includes employers’ obligation to give employees advance notice of their dismissal and hold a hearing before it. In addition, all their social benefits must be paid and, if they are entitled to it, severance pay as well.

Contact an attorney specializing in Israeli immigration law and the area of foreign workers

In this article, we reviewed the rights of foreign workers in Israel. For any additional question or issue relating to this subject, you can contact our law firm, which specializes in labor law and specifically the area of foreign workers in Israel. Our experienced attorneys with extensive knowledge in this field will be happy to provide you with comprehensive legal services on this issue, as well as a variety of other issues. You can contact us at the phone numbers and email address below.

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