March 9, 2009
Israeli Arab women march through Tel Aviv demanding jobs
By Noah Kosharek, Haaretz Correspondent
Dozens of women, most of them Israeli Arabs, marched through the streets of Tel Aviv Sunday, calling on the government to find them jobs in agriculture.
Wafa Tayara from Kafr Kara worked for a contractor in the agriculture industry four years ago, before doing the same kind of work through the Workers Advice Center - which organized the protest march from Rothschild Boulevard to Meir Park - and becoming responsible for recruiting more workers for the group, also known as Ma'an.
"That was my jumping-off point," she said. "From a worker with no rights or status to a worker with all the rights, and I got a pay slip."
The feeling that she was standing up for herself helped Tayara feel better about life and find the strength to do the housework even after working in the fields all day.
"When you go out and get all the rights, you find the time to organize things at home," she said. "When you're being exploited at work, you feel like there's no point in living."
Nir Nader, the coordinator of the workers center's Tel Aviv branch, accused the government and employers of giving preference to foreign workers instead of Israeli citizens.
"In Arab society, the unemployment issue is very central," said Nader. "Eighty-three percent of female Arab citizens of Israel don't work. There are 30,000 jobs in agriculture, and Arab women are willing to take them. All that's needed as an initial condition is to give them minimum wage and transportation to work, which would be eight hours a day, in accordance with the law. Instead, the government and the employers prefer foreign workers. Two weeks ago, they brought another 3,000 foreign workers into the industry."
The workers center has been helping Arab women receive pay slips and benefits in agriculture work for the past four years, said Michal Schwartz, who is responsible for the group's women's forum.
"We brought in hundreds of women, but the problem is that they get temporary work" based on what farmers need in a given season, she said. "The permanent force is the foreign workers."
Agricultural employers pay foreign workers NIS 13 an hour, even though the minimum wage is NIS 21 an hour, said Schwartz. "There are also employers who realize that there's a permanent and committed team here," she added, referring to the Arab women eager to work in agriculture. "But there are few who hire for the long term - it's a drop in the bucket."