More than 120 workers, students, activists and Knesset members came together on July 9th to demand an end to the private contracting of government services.
“We aim to rebuild the welfare system in Israel, and the primary way to do so is to return to direct employment,” said social work student Eran Hulata.
The National Coalition for Direct Employment, in which SHATIL plays a leading role, organized the conference to promote a bill that would require the government to directly hire all employees. The bill was sponsored by Meretz, but Knesset conference participants came from across the political spectrum. The gathering garnered significant media attention and energized politicians and ordinary citizens alike to fight for workers’ rights and a strong public sector.
Hulata came with Osim Shinui (Making Change), an activist group of social work students that is a member of the Coalition. He credits SHATIL with the group’s recent successful organizing drive.
“Social work is what keeps society together; yet over the past 20 years, this field has been neglected by the government,” said Hulata. The state has frozen funds for vital services such as re-integrating ex-prisoners into society; and three fourths of graduating social work students will be employed in the private sector, where many will lack social benefits.
Last year, SHATIL and the Coalition for Direct Employment helped activist and Knesset cafeteria worker Shira Cohen win a precedent-setting court case that increased job security for contracted employees. Private contracting harms not only Israel’s low-wage workers but professionals from many fields and the people they serve as well.
“As pupils, we are also hurt when our teachers suffer and are treated poorly,” said one high school student, commenting on the fact that contracted teachers are underpaid and overworked.
While the proposed bill ultimately failed by a narrow margin of nine votes, the conference strengthened the Coalition, built connections between activists and lawmakers, and increased support for direct employment both within the Knesset and among the general public. The bill should come up for another vote in six months, and SHATIL will continue to work at both the grassroots and policy level to promote workers’ rights and preserve the public sector.
“We want people to work with honor and dignity, and without the need for additional government income support,” said Likud Knesset Member Chaim Katz. SHATIL and its partners are committed to turning that hope into reality.