Photo: Sigal Rozen

The right of the migrant worker to work in Israel is dependent on the employer. The Binding Policy stipulates that a migrant worker cannot leave his legal employer, whose name is written in his work permit, for another employer. If the migrant worker does so for some reason, he will lose his visa and immediately become an “illegal resident” who can be detained and deported.

The identity of the migrant worker’s employer is determined before the migrant worker arrives in Israel and until recently, the name of the employer was stamped into the passport of the worker.

Thanks to the Binding Policy established by the State, employers can delay payments to workers, withhold social benefits they are entitled to, force them to work many hours per day, avoid giving them vacation days, provide them with sub-standard lodgings, illegally deduct sums from their paycheck and “mobilize” them to other employers. A worker who leaves his abusive employer immediately becomes an illegal resident. A worker who turns to the courts to demand his rights from his employer is usually fired, and as a result, his stay permit in Israel is revoked. Many workers have to stay with an abusive employer to maintain their legal status, while others prefer to leave their workplace and risk arrest for illegally staying in Israel.

As a result of the Binding Policy, many migrant workers who arrive in Israel lose their stay permit and are deported from the country before they complete the period they expected to work in Israel. According to studies by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the main reason migrant workers lose their legal status is not overstaying of the visa or working in a field of work other than the one designated to them, but leaving employers due to mistreatment and/or delay of salaries.

In 2002, several human rights organizations including Kav LaOved and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrant petitioned the High Court of Justice to scrap the Binding Policy due to its significant infringement of the basic rights of migrant workers. After close to four years of deliberations, the High Court of Justice accepted the appeal, and ruled in an incredibly scathing ruling of the government’s policy that the Binding Policy is “modern day slavery”. The ruling ordered the State to develop alternative policies for the fields of agriculture, caregiving and industry within six months.

In the 2006 ruling, Justice Cheshin stated: “There is no way to avoid the conclusion – a painful and shameful conclusion – that the foreign worker has become his employer’s vassal; that the Binding Policy with all its satellites shackled the foreign workers; that the Binding Policy created a kind of modern day slavery.”

In 2008, after two years have passed since the High Court ruling without any alternative policies being drawn, the human rights organizations once against appealed to the Court demanding that the State be found guilty of contempt of court and our petition was accepted. Since then, in some fields, new regulations were put in place and the working conditions of migrants improved to a degree, but the Binding Policy was not changed: to this day, the stay permit of the worker depends on his employer, a gross violation of the High Court ruling, which emphasized the right “of free choice of the worker, the autonomy of will and his freedom to shape his life.”

A new law regulating the cargiving sector, which is designed to answer the demand of the High Court to draft a new policy, was approved in 2011. However, the law reinforces the Binding Policy instead of replacing it. This law, Amendment no. 24 to the Entry to Israel Law, limits the right of the worker to switch employers and the geographic area where she can work.