Violence, Work with no rest and harsh living condition – a new report exposes employment conditions of caregivers from east Europe in Israel
81,329 migrant workers are currently legally employed in Israel. Over half of them, 47,488 people, work in the caregiving sector. 80% of migrant caregivers are women. New report, written by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Kav La’Oved focuses, for the first time, in caregivers from east Europe. In 2014 migrant workers from Eastern Europe made 19.4% of the migrant workers population in Israel. The social networks of these workers seems to be significantly weaker compared to those of workers from East Asia. Workers from East Europe are more isolated and thus more vulnerable.
The report includes interviews with 36 caregivers, mostly from Moldova but also from the Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Romania taken place during the months of November and December 2016.
Payment of exorbitantly high recruitment fees: despite the fact that recruitment agencies in Israel and in the countries of origin are prohibited from collecting arrangement fee – the report shows that this practice is very common: all of the caregivers who were interviewed had to pay fees in order to arrange their employment in Israel. Only 13 of those interviewed agreed to share the exact amount they had to pay and it ranges from 4,500$ paid by those who entered Israel a few years ago, to 9,000$ paid by workers who entered over last few years. The average payment was about 7,350$, when the majority of the sum was paid in the countries of origin and the rest to recruitment companies in Israel. Being forced to go into debt to pay off the high recruitment fee affects the first years of employment of the caregivers in Israel, and compels them to accept difficult living and working conditions, low pay and even abuse in some extreme cases
Violence and Inappropriate Behavior of Patients or their Relatives: “I took care of an elderly couple. The man was violent toward me. He would grab me by the breasts, call me a ‘whore’ and hurl other insults as well. I once returned late from my day off and the couple refused to open the door for me. I slept in the stairway. After eight months like this, I felt I could not bear it any longer and I ran away from there.” All of those who were interviewed, except one, mentioned that they suffered verbal abuse by their employers at least once. Four mentioned suffering physical abuse by their patient as well, and one told about sexual violence. One of them described that the patient injured her with a knife when he got angry. Another reported that her patient, an elderly woman, used to beat her and yell: “You have no one here, I will do with you whatever I want. You are a nobody here!” Another worker was often beaten by her patient, an elderly woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. A fourth caregiver was violently ejected from the home of her employer in the middle of the night with her belongings and told to never return again. It should be noted that caregivers often tell about sexual assaults committed by the patients or their relatives. In many cases, the patients suffer from dementia and are unaware of their actions when they sexually assault their caregiver. The lack of a social network, lack language skills and isolation in the employer-patient house 24 hours a day raises the concern sexual harassments and assaults that employs are afraid of reporting.
Difficult Living Conditions: “One liter of milk, one box of cottage cheese, three potatoes and three onions for myself and the grandma together! This is how it was for five years. Sometimes the son would bring meat or two patties. First grandma would eat and the leftovers were for me”.
Many of the workers report difficult living conditions in addition to the challenging work they have to perform at the home of the patient. Workers report lack of adequate food, inability to choose the food that they like prohibits on using the air conditioning and water heater for a shower and the washing machine. despite the presence of these electrical appliances in the home. In some homes, the employers would closely inspect the receipts of the food the caregiver bought for the household. One of the workers had to wash her laundry and the laundry of the patient by hand, due to lack of a washing machine. These and many other complaints about unreasonable demands and irrational requests of the patients emphasize the crucial importance of the involvement of relatives of the patients in checking up on the patient and migrant caregiver in a constant and consistent manner.
Extremely long work days without overtime pay: All migrant caregivers are employed for 24 hours per day, six days per week. They live in the homes of their employers and on average are forced to work for 12 hours per day. During the other 12 hours they are on stand by and must appear if the patient wakes up and requires their services. When asked about how many hours of work they performed daily on average, the answers ranged from 12 hours to extreme cases of 22 hours of constant work. In most cases, the caregivers reported having to work a little over 12 hours on most days. Despite the long work day caregiver don’t receive overtime pay. The monthly wages of the workers who were interviewed for this report ranged from 2,700- 4,870 NIS, while the minimum wage in Israel is currently 4,825 NIS per month. However, employers are allowed to deduct sums that are set in regulations for covering the living expenses of the caregiver. Thus, minimum wage after the highest deduction permissible by law is 3,950 NIS. In addition although since 2008 Israeli law obligates employers of migrant workers to deposit money in a pension fund, many patients are unaware of this and some recruitment agencies instruct patients to avoid making the payments for pension funds allocated for severance pay.
Denial of a Weekly Day Off: “Three times they insisted that I remain with grandmother [the patient] on my day off. When I didn’t want to, the son threatened me with beatings, firing me and complaining to the police. He said he would make sure I’m deported from the country” A third of the workers who were asked about it report that they are employed seven days per week. Three of them prefer this arrangement so they can receive additional pay. Among those workers who do utilize a day off, some described cases when the employer refused to allow them to take their day off for one reason or another. One of the workers reported that even when she would have to leave to use the bathroom, the elderly patient would become irritated.
Performance of Additional Chores: “They force you to work day and night. The work isn’t just as a caregiver, but also cleaning the bathroom and the entire apartment. In the holidays, they want you to come clean the homes of relatives too. Before every Shabbat I had to cook for the entire family”
Many of the women report having to perform many additional chores that are not connected to their work as caregivers, including cooking and cleaning for the entire family, taking care of animals and large gardens and at times cleaning and gardening for relatives of the patients who live in separate houses. This employment is illegal under Israeli law, even if the worker receives fair pay for her labor. In cases in which the worker is employed without receiving any additional pay, this constitutes one of the warning
signs for employment in slavery-like conditions.
Geographic Restrictions: starting from the beginning of 2014, the work visa issued to the migrant caregiver includes a designation of the regions in Israel where her employment in permissible. Many workers reported having difficulties finding alternative employers due to the restrictions on the geographic region where their employment is permissible. This difficulty leads the women to accept abusive working conditions, out of fear that they will be unable to locate an alternative employer
Lack of Information and Supervision to Ensure Rights are Upheld: “Every time I felt I couldn’t handle it anymore, I asked to leave the old woman, but she threatened that I will be deported and couldn’t work here in another home.” These testimonies from the interviews we conducted with the migrant caregivers indicate that even those workers who reached out to Kav LaOved are unaware of many of the rights that they have. According to the law, a social worker from the recruitment agency must visit the home of the patient as often as needed and at least once every six months, to guide the caregiver about the in-home care, guide the patient about the rights of the worker, solve specific problems Workers who replied to our question about the social worker’s conduct reported that when she arrives, she only asks about the state of the patient and does not address them. Others did not even know that the social worker is supposed to ask them about their working conditions and inform them about their rights. A survey conducted by Kav L’Oved in 2014 shows that most caregivers are interviewed by the social worker in the presence of the patient or his family members.
The report calls for the adoption Israeli of the following recommendations by the Israeli authorities:
• The Immigration Authority should allow the recruitment of workers only through transparent recruitment mechanisms under tight oversight, which will come into existence after the signing of bilateral agreements with the countries of origin of the workers.
• Israeli enforcement agencies – the police and Immigration Authority – must initiate investigations and act to bring to justice Israeli recruitment agencies and Israeli middlemen who illegally charge recruitment fees from migrant workers.
• Israel must revoke the geographic limitations and the limitation on the number of transfers between employers which effectively bind the caregivers to their abusive employers.
• The number of visits of social workers from recruitment agencies and the Ministry of Welfare in the homes of patients receiving in-home care must be increased. Visitations of social workers in homes of patients who reside in isolated regions and/or where the caregivers work seven days per week should be carried out especially stringently. In addition, Social workers from the Ministry of Welfare should conduct surprise visits in the homes of patients employing migrant caregivers.
• The Immigration Authority should ensure that all migrant workers who arrive in Israel received beforehand a document in their native language detailing their rights and obligations as migrant caregivers and that they signed a contract in their native tongue that conforms to Israeli law.