Kayan recently concluded a qualitative investigation concerning the employment conditions and patterns of labor rights violations faced by Palestinian women working in the Arab private sector in Israel. This report is the first to focus on employment conditions of Palestinian women – including violations of their rights – exclusively within the Palestinian private sector.
Palestinian women constitute one of the poorest and least paid population groups in Israel, and their participation in the Israeli labor market is very low – only 27% of the Palestinian women participate, as opposed to 77% among Jewish women. This lack of participation has been largely attributed to structural barriers within the Israeli labor market itself, including a lack of workplaces and associated economic infrastructure, a lack of daycare facilities for children, insufficient public transportation, poor employment conditions and non-enforcement of basic labor rights. Recognizing that these endemic barriers to equal participation in the workplace threaten the personal status and security of Palestinian women in Israel, Kayan undertook this assessment to provide a comprehensive understanding of the depth and scope of these barriers and to inform effective interventions for the safeguarding of women’s rights to fair and secure employment.
In partnership with the Do’Et Institute, Kayan conducted 27 in-depth interviews with Palestinian women employed within the Arab private sector in Israel in the last three years. As the study aimed to investigate methods and patterns of violations (rather than the quantitative scope of the phenomenon), interviewees were selected on the basis of having experienced a violation of at least one of their basic labor rights. Participants were identified through Kayan’s network of community-based women’s associations, civil society partners, and personal reference via other interviewees. The research cohort reflects defined groupings by age, education, and geographic distribution. 14 of 27 interviewees are between 18-25 years, the rest between 26-62 years. 16 interviewees have 12 years of education or less, the other 11 have more than 12 years of education. 16 interviewees live in villages and 11 in cities, including one mixed city. All but one of the interviewees are wage earners (employed hourly) and all but two hold jobs that do not require any special qualifications (unskilled labor). 13 of the interviewees are employed as retail sales clerks or supermarket cashiers, five in agriculture, four in legal offices, two in small manufacturing plants, one as a cleaning person, one in a not-for-profit organization (NGO), and one in the kitchen of a catering company.
Interviews included open questions about interviewees’ own working conditions and work environments in general. Respondents were asked to introduce themselves and describe their work, relationship with their employer and reasons for seeking employment. The interviews also included specific questions concerning rights awareness and actualization, as well as requisites for demanding their rights from employers.
In addition, five experts on the employment of Palestinian women were interviewed and consulted regarding research findings. Expert interviewees included governmental officials and civil society representatives.
Results show that 88% of the interviewees were paid less than the minimum wage and over half (60%) were paid less than 65% of the minimum wage. The extent of the violations varies from case to case, but the lowest figure was NIS 5/hour (21% of the minimum required by law) and none of the interviewees was paid more than minimum wage. Regarding receipt of a paycheck, the research found that 40% of the interviewees were not provided a paycheck. Another 40% reported that although the received a paycheck, it did not reflect actual wages or hours worked. While all of the interviewees were aware of the minimum wage and were able to compare their own wages to it, this was not true regarding other rights, including the right to vacation, holiday, sick leave, havra’a, and pension. At least 80% of the interviewees had experienced a violation of these rights, though 78% were not aware of this fact prior to their involvement in the research. 92% of the interviewees were denied vacation, holidays, sick leave, and pension. 85% reported they did not receive havra’a.
80% of the interviewees reported that they would be willing to approach a civil society organization in order to actualize their rights. 74% said they would approach their employer and demand their rights if they were aware that their rights were violated. Only 47% considered legal recourse.
Regarding employees’ ability to demand their rights from employers, almost all of the women interviewed mentioned a need for enhanced understanding of their rights. Two additional strategies were mentioned: external support from family, friends or NGOs, and approaching an employer as a group, rather than individually.
The findings illuminate a pattern of labor rights violations among Palestinian women in the Arab private sector. Furthermore, violations are sophisticated, well concealed, and – most importantly – reliant upon women’s lack of knowledge, resources and empowerment.
The results highlight the urgent need for broad awareness raising among Palestinian women concerning their labor rights. However, this alone will be insufficient; the findings demonstrate that awareness of the mandatory minimum wage did not guarantee employees could actualize this right. Women’s isolation is a key concern. Thus awareness raising should be complemented by personal empowerment and skills training for community organizing that can allow women to consolidate as a group advocate their rights with a united voice.
On the level of governmental action, it is widely accepted that Israel has poor record in the enforcement of its labor law. For Palestinian women in the Arab private sector, these are issues of the utmost urgency. Current methods of enforcement are drastically insufficient, forcing Palestinian women into conditions of economic hardship, personal insecurity and retirement-age poverty. New mechanisms are needed to expose violations and enforce labor rights law.
Based on our findings, Kayan recommends the following action on three inter-related levels:
Empowering women at the grassroots
Mobilizing community support
Advocating institutional change