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Against the Revolving Door
by Nir Nader
N JUNE 11, 2006, Israel's Educational TV (a government channel) sent 30 of its workers a letter saying, "Your services will not be needed after July 15." No reason was stated. The dismissed are officially freelancers who have been employed between one and two years. In practice, however, they work as regular staff. The sole difference is that they have no social or pension benefits and can be fired without explanation. They range from photographers to promoters. Many have helped produce ETV's best known programs.
The dismissals were predictable. There has long been a revolving-door system at ETV. Of the station’s 300 employees, 200 have permanent status or “tenure” as government workers. Another 40 are independent actors and journalists (“the talents,” they are called) who put in several hours a week, and the remaining 60 are freelancers, all destined to be replaced within two-year periods – that is, just before getting tenure. (When a person has tenure he can be fired only under special conditions, which must be demonstrable before the Labor Court.) In fact, it is customary to rehire many after the summer, when they will start anew in accumulating months toward the ever unattainable tenure.
This time, though, those ejected by the turning door did not remain passive. They organized a committee for reinstatement and asked WAC to represent them.
WAC engaged Attorneys Orna Lin and Inbal Altman, who sent a letter to Yaffa Vigodsky, the manager of ETV, including these words: “A check into the real nature of the relationship between Educational TV and our clients, according to the criteria laid down by the Labor Court, reveals that they are regular workers in every way, and, more precisely, state employees in every way….In addition, the state service laws apply to the dismissal procedures, which clearly determine the dismissal conditions (above all, a hearing for each dismissal is required, as well as a genuine reason for the dismissal) – terms that have not been met in this case.”
In response to the pressure for a hearing, ETV’s legal advisor stated that the reason for the dismissals is reorganization. In WAC’s view, this statement is no smokescreen. Reorganization is in the air – namely, outsourcing. If it goes through, the result will be destruction of the organized workforce, including those who are official state employees and as such receive the required benefits. The Histadrut is rousing itself to fight this “reorganization.”
Quick support for the freelancers came from the regular Workers’ Committee of ETV, which is connected to the Histadrut. It has announced that it will stand by them in opposition to the revolving-door policy.
ETV’s excuse is budgetary, and problems of budget revert to the Finance Ministry. In response to this point, Haim Zisowitz, who hosts an ETV program that serves as watchdog over the media, has pointed out that the success of ETV, as a government company, is not a question of profit. Relative to the commercial stations, the government’s channel above all “should conduct labor relations that are much more generous and fair.” (Haaretz June 22)
Avirma Golan, who hosts two very popular shows, said in an interview with Walla (a major Israeli website): “If the ETV director doesn’t manage to reach a compromise with the Finance Ministry, the talent, the directors and the producers will not allow the dismissal of the freelancers.” Golan added that “among the dismissed are two highly educated directors’ assistants who handle so many tasks …. In any other place they would receive a fair wage and protection. Here they are walked over. This is exploitation of the worst kind…. If you create TV with slaves, it will look like it’s been created with slaves.”