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Ha'aretz, September 26, 1999

Air conditioning for Jews only

Many Arab job-seekers are labeled as 'job-refusers' when they are sent by the dozens to inappropriate workplaces and rejected by their prospective bosses

By Einat Fishbain, Ha'aretz


The Employment Bureau offices in Upper Nazareth are divided every week, on Mondays and Tuesdays, into two sections. One section is for Jews from the town; the other, for Arabs from Ein Ma'ahal. The Jews get a large room with air conditioning, three clerks, bathrooms, a water cooler and rows of chairs with a stunning view of the Jezreel Valley. The Arabs get a small room, a single clerk, no bathroom, no water, a small air-conditioner that can barely be felt and dozens trying to fit inside a room that can barely hold 20 people. On the Jewish side, people are assigned a number, and can sit inside until they are called. On the Arab side, the unemployed receive a handwritten number and have to wait outside in the sun, where there are neither chairs nor water.At the end of August the unemployed of Ein Ma'ahal, approximately 500 people, were moved from the Employment Bureau office in Nazareth to an office in Upper Nazareth. The Nazareth office had consisted of a large, windowless room at the end of a long dark corridor in the basement of the local Mashbir Lezarchan department store - hot, cramped, and dirty, and used to handle a total of 4,500 unemployed in what even the Employment Service admits are "difficult physical conditions."

At first it seemed that the partial solution to the crowding for the estimated 500 unemployed of Ein Ma'ahal would be pleasant accommodations in Upper Nazareth. But this would not be so. What they did get was a separate room at the back of a building that serves part-time as an office for unemployed academics.

The walls are covered with job offers and instructions regarding the rights of the unemployed - but all the notices are in Hebrew and Russian. There's not a word in Arabic. The room serves a few dozen academics who come in for a few minutes a week, and deals twice a week with hundreds of Arabs, who spend hours waiting their turn. Sometimes, to relieve the boredom of the wait, they knock on the glass doors of the waiting room for unemployed Jews, until a security guard comes and gives them permission to use the bathroom, or they simply stare through the glass doors at the unemployed Jews.

"The women stand here for hours from the morning," said Wahaba Badarna from Ma'an, the Workers Guidance Center, a social rights organization. "Some 170 women come every Wednesday, sometimes with children in their arms, without a place to sit, without a toilet facility for them." It didn't take long for the villagers to rebel. At the Employment Service they promised to move the women to the large room now serving the Jews only. But last Wednesday, the women were still eating in front of the small office, like the men.

Shmuel Shukrun, who runs the Employment Service's Jezreel Valley district, wrote "I'm convinced that there was no worsening of conditions (compared to the Nazareth offices).

On the contrary: a) the Upper Nazareth office is closer to Ein Ma'ahal; b) it's cheaper to get to the Upper Nazareth by public transport; c) there is a larger reservoir of jobs and job training available through the Upper Nazareth office; d) there's intensive treatment of the unemployed at the Upper Nazareth office. Many resources were shifted to the Upper Nazareth area, at the expense of other parts of the district. The job seekers from Ein Ma'ahal are handled in the department that deals with academics, which is an inseparable part of the bureau."

"Thanks, but we'd rather go back to Nazareth," says job-seeker Habib Ala al Hamad, 61, complaining that he needs to take two buses to get to Upper Nazareth and that often, people without money have to walk the entire way. "They invite all the unemployed of the village - more than 400 people - on the same day. There aren't enough chairs for everyone, only for 20. I'm number 111 today, but because I'm considered old, they let me sit down. People stand here from 8 in the morning. We aren't asking for a movie theater or a fancy office. But a chair in the yard and a water faucet would be nice. Now they opened a duct for air conditioning from the main room, but you have to blow to feel it. But that was nice of them."

An unwanted record "We lead the country in unemployment," says Ein Ma'ahal council chair Tawfik Habib Alla. "Number one, for the second year in a row. We have 17.7 percent unemployment in a village of 9,000. Once we were close to the national average, say 7, or at the most 8-9 percent. But most people work in construction and because of the recession, many lost their jobs. In recent years there have also been some factory closings, as the plants move to Jordan."

The unemployed of Ein Ma'ahal remember all the factories that have closed. They remember the textile plant in Nazareth that employed 30 women, the irrigation pipe factory that had 12 workers, the textile plant that employed more than 100.

Hamzi Alouan, deputy to Alla, says the unemployment problem began in 1975 when the state expropriated land from the village. "They took our main source of livelihood, farming. When more than 8,000 dunam were expropriated, the livelihood of the people, their profession, was also taken away. We had only 4,000 dunam left, and peasants went to work in construction, to find out that their only certainty was either employment or the dole on the 28th of the month."

The villagers, many of whom can't afford to pay their city taxes, spend their time listlessly waiting for their weekly visit to the Employment Service bureau. Few come back from Upper Nazareth with jobs. Many come back with the ominous "job-refuser" written on their card. That means that they lose a month of unemployment payments, with the payments only resuming three months later, and lose their right to job training courses.

Social rights organizations report that in the last year hundreds of complaints from both Jews and Arabs have accumulated on their desks. The complaints are about what appears to be the almost capricious method by which Employment Service clerks decide that an unemployed person turned down a job offer, making them a "job-refuser."

The stories are many and varied and point to a decidedly tougher policy by the services. An unemployed woman who asked that she be allowed to start work half an hour later in order to take her child to kindergarten was immediately stamped job-refuser. A programmer who asked for permission to show a proposed contract to his lawyer got the same treatment. An elderly immigrant with a 30 percent disability was told by a bureau clerk that the disability didn't count, and was stamped a refuser because a putative employer called the disabled man "inappropriate" for the job.

There's been a 10 percent rise since last year in the number of those declared job-refusers. That's totally out of proportion to the overall rise in unemployment. In May and June the number of job rejectors jumped 13.4 percent - even though the unemployment rate remained the same. The national average of job rejectors is 4.3 percent. In the Employment Service they say that Arabs reject jobs at a lower rate than Jews, so the rejector rate among them is only 3.5 percent. But those same figures show that Ein Ma'ahal had a 13.4 percent job rejection rate in August - 61 out of 454 unemployed. It's another national record for the sleepy Galilee village.

Ihlas Abu Layel has a piece of paper the bureau gave her sending her to work in early September to work as a waitress. When she showed up to what she was told would be a cafeteria, it turned out to be a night club that works from 6 at night to 3 in the morning and because of the hours, the owner wanted only male waiters. He wrote on her form that she was "inappropriate."

"I went back to the bureau in Upper Nazareth and they immediately stamped me as a job-rejector," says Abu Layel. "But I want to work. He was the one who said he wanted only men. But the service keeps sending him women. My sister, too, got sent to him. And he tells them all he doesn't need them." She speaks only Arabic, though she does know a few Hebrew words: "form," "rejector," "inappropriate."

Belated justice She's a veteran at disappointment. In August 1998 she was sent with 30 other women from the village to work in a olive grove near Beit She'an. They showed up at 6 in the morning at the Nazareth bureau, as instructed, but the contractor never showed up. The next day they waited again, and again the contractor didn't show. Because there was nobody to sign her slip, the next time she showed up at the bureau, she was stamped a job-rejector. For months she didn't make it to an appeals committee, until the Workers Guidance Center heard of her case and took matters into their hands, going to the regional Labor Court. Nearly a year after the failed job in the olive grove, she and 20 other women were reinstated as legitimately unemployed.

"They should start checking the contractors and those who ask for workers," says Bazam Hanni Abu Layel, one of the men crowding the Upper Nazareth offices. "A contractor shows up and asks for five workers," he explains angrily. "The next day they send him 50. He takes 10 for a day's work and at the end of the day he tells them all, "you're inappropriate" - and doesn't even pay them for the day's work. They'll keep sending him workers, and whoever doesn't want to go, gets listed as a job-rejector."

Majdi Shani arrives at the bureau after going to a job interview at a Galilee hotel. "I sat there for two hours," he says forlornly. "Finally they told me they don't want workers - and wouldn't agree to sign my slip. They don't owe me anything. I know I'm gonna get hit with a rejector stamp. A few weeks ago they sent me to a building contractor from Ilut village. He said, 'You work for two days for free or I won't sign.' So I worked for two days for free. Otherwise I would be burnt."

Around him, friends from the village gather, all with job referrals to the same contractor. They'll all work for free for two days.

Hatib el Aziz, an older man, watches form the side. "They sent me to a man in Nazareth to work in refrigeration. As soon as he saw me, he said 'we want younger men.' I went back to the bureau and they stamped me a rejector. I have five kids. How can they say I turned down work. Who doesn't want to bring home food for his children?"

Hatib Ataf asked not to be sent to a contractor who fired him five years ago and never paid wages of NIS 6,000. The result - he became a rejector. Muhammad Abyu Layel went for an interview after meeting the criteria for being a construction engineer. When he showed up for the interview, the contractor asked why they sent him when he wanted someone who finished the army. The contractor refused to sign Layel's slip. Layel went back to the bureau fearing the dreaded rejectors stamp - but this time he was relieved. They told him to come back in two weeks, when they'll consider his case.

"There are some very weird things here," says Badarna. "In Kafr Kana, for example, they decided that 30 unemployed have to show up three times a week. They didn't believe the 30 weren't working. Whoever tries to sign up for unemployment and brings old wage slips from a family business - which is a pretty common phenomenon here - has to wait months until an investigator from the National Insurance Institute shows up to find out if the person really worked in the family business. Meanwhile, there's no unemployment payments. The trouble with the rejection is that very few appeal the decisions. People don't know their rights, which aren't even available in their own language, and because the appeals committees are part of the Employment Service, nobody trusts them. The few who do appeal find out that the committees only meet every few months. The rejector stamp is rescinded only on rare occasions."

The Employment Service says that after "intensive" treatment of the offices in Upper Nazareth, the number of unemployed from Kfar Ma'ahal dropped from 454 to 332, moving the village from its top spot on the list of towns with the highest rate of unemployment. Now the rate is only 13.2 percent, says the service spokeswoman. "We only stamp a person as a job-rejector if they don't show up at the place of employment, refuse to accept a job offer, or reject an employer's offer. And of course, it goes without saying we never declare someone a job-rejector in their absence. There's no such thing as a clerk writing job-rejector on a form where the employer has written 'inappropriate' and we keep track of all the employers to find out why they write what they do on an unemployed person's form."

"There was someone who had a small air conditioning company in our village," Hani Abu Layel remembers. "He called the Employment Service and asked for one worker. The next day they sent 70. He saw them all and didn't know what to do. His mother stood there making coffee for them all. They went in and he stamped all their forms. A few days later he got an idea. He called the service and said they all threatened him to make him sign their forms. The next Tuesday they were all stamped rejectors. Three months without a shekel.


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved



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