Unionized Workers, Haredim and the Differences between Them

Workers’ organizations are the main player in the protection of employees’ rights, in obtaining job security and in setting employment conditions and wages. The research examined the rate of unionized haredi workers, both men and women. The research also examined the infringement on employees’ rights and the extent of the adherence to labor laws by employers, toward their haredi employees.

Haredi women are among the weakest groups in the Israeli job market. Most haredi employees are not unionized; haredi women suffer the most from the violation of employees’ rights in the workplace

The research by Nitsa (Kaliner) Kasir and Assaf Tzachor-Shai presents a low rate of unionization, relative to the general population of workers organized in unions and workers’ committees. Kasir and Tzachor-Shai recommend that “workers organizations adapt themselves to the conditions required for operating in the haredi sector, while providing an effective and efficient halachic solution to the various issues that affect workers from that community.”

The rate of unionized workers in haredi society is very low compared to the general population. In addition, the rate of haredi women who reported the infringement of their rights and their employers’ lack of adherence to labor laws is significantly higher than in all other population groups. These findings were presented in a position paper published by the institute’s researchers and which was a first-ever survey of the haredi labor market in the context of workers’ rights and the organizing of haredi workers into workers unions and workers’ committees.

Nitsa Kasir, a senior fellow at the institute, and Assaf Tzachor-Shai base their findings on the processing of data from the 2012 Central Bureau of Statistics Social Survey, in which survey participants were asked questions regarding workers unions and committees. The survey revealed that more than one quarter of the salaried employees in Israel, both men and women and in all the sectors, belonged to workers unions. This figure however, embodied huge gaps between the different population groups: The haredim have lower membership in workers organizations compared to non-haredi Jews, with a particularly large disparity between the men from these two population groups – 12% among employed haredi men and 25% among employed Jewish men who are not haredim. A higher percentage of haredi women belong to workers organizations but still a lower ratio than in the non-haredi sector, in which 29% of employed women belong to workers organizations.

Additional data indicate the high rate of employed haredi women who reported the violation of their rights in the workplace. Among haredi men the rate of those who reported the violation of their rights in the workplace was lower than in the non-haredi sector. The article’s authors note that the rates of the reporting by both men and women are probably lower than the actual rate of the violation of workers’ rights, but the violations are not reported due the cultural and halachic norms and the lack of awareness and familiarity with the labor laws.

The survey participants’ answers also reveal the possible causes of the low rate of membership in workers organizations. Among haredi women employed in education, for example, 38% reported that there is no workers’ organization at their place of employment, compared to just 17% in the non-haredi sector. Among haredi men employed in education the disparity is even greater, with 64% reporting the absence of a workers organization in their workplace, compared to just 22% in the non-haredi sector.

The survey also examined the participants’ awareness of the positive impact of workers organizations on employment conditions, job security and the narrowing of wage gaps in the workplace. The survey results showed positive perceptions of the importance of the existence and importance of workers organizations. Even so, it is interesting to see that a high percentage of haredim answered that they do not know have an opinion on those issues. This finding can also attest to low awareness of the reality of a workplace in which there is a workers organization.

The researchers found a lack of awareness of and familiarity with the labor laws among employees in the haredi sector, including a lack of awareness of the existence of workers organizations in most of the workplaces in this sector. One reason for this, cited by the researchers, is the haredi workers’ fear of a situation in which the membership in non-haredi workers organizations could entail the violation of halacha in the event of a suit against the employer. This is because demands and claims by a workers organization on behalf of the workers could be problematic from a halachic point of view when the workers organization might sue an employer on behalf of the workers, demanding conditions and supplements for which the workers are eligible by law, even when the workers are not eligible for such conditions and supplements under halacha.

The researchers also found that another factor that makes unionization difficult and gives haredi employers more power is the high number of haredi job seekers in certain fields (such as education) versus the limited number of jobs. In light of this problem, the researchers noted that by increasing and varying the fields of employment for haredi women would help to improve the current situation. The researchers further added that action should be taken toward the adaptation of the workers organizations to the requirements for operating in the haredi sector, while providing halachically permissible solutions to the various problems, in order to be able to represent the interests of the workers and effectively and efficiently and to improve the economic situation and work conditions of the haredi employees.

“The workers organizations,” stress the researchers, “must be able to build a unique system that will be dedicated to the workplaces that employ haredi workers, and that will take into account the different sectorial behavior, in order to prevent exploitation and to adapt to the conditions in which institutions operate in haredi society. Such a system must be clear of the influences of pressure groups of employers, and its operations must be in cooperation and in consultation with a recognized religious authority who will provide ongoing advice and will approve any steps taken.”

Nitsa (Kaliner) Kasir
Past Researcher
Assaf Tsachor-Shai
Past Researcher

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