Haredi women among the weakest groups in the Israeli economy

Most haredi employees aren’t unionized; Haredi Women take the lead in reports on rights violation in the workplace

A research written by researchers Nitsa (Kaliner) Kasir and Assaf Tsachor-Shai of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs shows a lower rate of unionization among haredim relative to the general population. The Institute’s researchers recommend that workers’ unions adapt to the requirements necessary to operate in the haredi sector, while providing an effective and efficient halachic solution to the various problems faced by haredi employees.

A research published by the Institute’s researchers, which for the first time examines the haredi labor market in the context of workers’ rights and unionization, shows that the rate of unionized workers in the haredi community is very low in comparison to the rest of the population. At the same time, the number of haredi women who reported violations of their rights and employers’ lack of compliance with labor laws is very high in proportion to all population groups.

Nitsa Kasir, senior fellow at the Institute, and Assaf Tsachor-Shai, researcher at the Institute, based this on their processing of data culled from a 2012 Social Survey of the Central Bureau of Statistics, where respondents were asked to answer questions about labor unions. The survey shows that more than a quarter of employees in the labor market, men and women from all sectors, were members of workers’ unions. But inherent in these figures are large disparities between the different population groups: the rate of haredim belonging to labor unions is less than that of non-haredi Jews, with the gap considerably more noticeable among men – 12% among haredi men versus 25% among non-haredi men. Among haredi women the rate of membership in labor unions is higher and stands at 21%, but it is still lower in comparison to the general population, in which 29% of women are members of workers’ unions.

Additional figures emerging from the processed data indicate a high number of haredi women employees who reported workers’ rights violation. Among haredi men there is a lower rate of reporting of rights violation than in the general population. The authors note that it’s possible that the rate of reported violations – among both men and women – is lower than the actual rate of labor laws violation, but the violations are underreported because of a lack of awareness of labor laws and cultural and halachic norms.

Respondents’ answers to the survey also indicate possible factors in the low rate of unionization. For example, 38% of women employed in education in the haredi sector reported that their workplaces did not have a workers’ union, in comparison with 17% of women in the general population. In the case of haredi men employed in education the gap is even greater, with 64% reporting that there is no workers’ union in their workplace, in contrast to 22% in the general population.

In addition, the survey examined the respondents’ level of awareness regarding the positive effects of labor unions on working conditions, job security, and bridging gaps in the workplace. The survey indicates that even among haredim there is a positive perception of workers’ unions and an understanding of their importance.

However it is interesting to note that a high proportion of haredim responded that they did not know what their position was on these matters. This finding may indicate limited knowledge of the fact that there are workplaces where labor unions are in operation.

Among employees from the haredi sector, the researchers found a lack of awareness of and familiarity with the labor laws, including the absence of workers’ unions in the majority of workplaces in the sector. The researchers note that the reason for this might be the haredi employees’ concern that membership in non-haredi workers’ unions might entail violating halacha in the case of a claim against an employer. This is because demands made by labor unions on behalf of workers might be halachically problematic in the case where the unions demand extra benefits which they are entitled to by law, but which they are not entitled to according to halacha.

Another factor impeding workers from unionizing, and which gives greater power to the employers, the researchers say, is the higher number of workers in certain fields (for example, education) relative to the limited jobs available. In light of this, they indicate that expanding haredi women’s employment diversity will improve the current situation. They also point out the necessity of ensuring that workers’ unions are adapted to the conditions required for operating within the haredi sector, by providing halachic solutions to the various problems. This will enable the unions to represent haredi workers’ interests, and thereby be more effective in improving haredi employees’ working conditions and economic situation.

“Labor unions,” they stress, must be capable of building a unique system specifically for workplaces that employ haredim. This system should take into account how the haredi sector differs in this regard and ensure haredi workers are not being exploited, while adapting to the conditions under which haredi institutions operate. Such a system must be free of pressure groups of employers, and its activities must be in cooperation and consultation with a well-known Torah authority that will advise and approve the measures to be taken.”

To download the report (Hebrew) click here.