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Israeli Supreme Court Affirms Full Civil Rights for Israelis in Sheltered Workshops: by Bizchut

Bizchut logo in Hebrew

Bizchut logo in Hebrew

Bizchut is excited to share a momentous achievement! For the first time workers in sheltered work environments have been granted the same social rights as any other employee!

Such significant change for the rights of people with disabilities in the Israeli labor force is a rare event, especially when it concerns a particularly exploitive, discriminatory, and segregative policy such as sheltered workshops/work centers. These organizations employ people with disabilities in environments that are separate from others, and are usually exempt from labor laws and standards, including but not limited to minimum wage requirements, pension, notice of severance pay, and the right to a hearing before termination.

Haim Zar filed a lawsuit with the Regional Labor Court after leaving his job of 12 years in a sheltered work environment. In the lawsuit, Zar claimed an employer/employee relationship with his employer, which entitled him to minimum wages and social rights. The Regional Labor Court denied his claim, but Mr. Zar refused to give up and appealed to the National Labor Court (30279-05-19).

At this stage, Attorney Avivit Barkai-Aharonoff of Bizchut, together with Advocate Ron Derech of the Legal Clinic for People with Disabilities at the Hebrew University Law Faculty submitted an Amicus Curiae petition (friend of court petition) claiming:

  • Integration in the free labor market must be competitive integrated employment, and not in a segregative work environment. If necessary, accommodations should be made through supported employment, or other such options, allowing assistance in the open labor market.
  • Employment in sheltered workshops, if it must exist, is solely intended to be used as a transitional stage—to provide skills and tools in preparation for the open market—and not as a long term means that perpetuate stereotypes and violate rights.
  • There is no reason to assume that people referred to sheltered employment are unemployable or lack work skills. It is not a given that sheltered work establishments even have rehabilitative purposes. The existence of a rehabilitative purpose must be determined in each case on its own merits. If the program lacks a rehabilitative purpose, the typical “employer/employee” relationship tests should be applied—just as is in any other employment.

The National Labor Court adopted Bizchut’s and the Legal Clinic’s position in full, and for the first time recognized the employer/employee relationship between an employee in a protected work environment and the employer!

The court ruled that the appellant is entitled to be compensated for the employer’s lack of pension contributions, payments of annual leave, notice of termination, severance pay, and hearing before termination.

Regarding the appellant’s claim to minimum wage, the court stated that since there is an express statutory provision regarding protected minimum wage, the employer was not bound to pay minimum wage. With that, the Court noted:

“This result [a law instating protected minimum wage] raises real difficulties vis-à-vis the appellant’s rights to dignity and to a dignified existence and is contrary to the goals of the Equality Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law—calling for full integration of people with disabilities …. The Knesset should consider this aspect when drafting the reform legislation of Employment of People with Disabilities.”

While we are certainly very excited about this judgment, it is not a fait accompli. Bizchut believes:

  1. Sheltered work environments and protected minimum wage or adapted minimum wage infringe upon the basic rights of people with disabilities. There can be no separate labor rights for people with and without people with disabilities
  2. Legislation that is contrary to the Equality Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law should be declared null and void.
  3. Inclusive community life for people with disabilities must also include legislation, policies, and programs that ensure, inter alia, labor rights for people with disabilities and policies and programs that ensure them.

We at Bizchut will continue to promote equal, autonomous, and inclusive life for every person with disabilities in the community, including in the field of employment. This year we will hold webinars that discuss and inform of people’s rights. Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/bizchut and https://www.bizchut.org.il/copy-of-2.

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