"Workers Not Slaves"
A unique aspect of the TraffLab research project is the close collaboration with the TAU Law Workers’ Rights Clinic. Led by Adv. Idit Zimmerman and Adv. Irit Ulman, the Clinic expanded its mission to become a ‘laboratory’ for the study of labor-based anti-trafficking tools, by pursuing a labor approach to trafficking in the Israeli legal context. The Clinic’s legal activity provides experiential and empirical data to answer the project’s research questions regarding the potential and the limits of labor-based tools to combat human trafficking.
Ongoing Clinical projects
Development and construction projects in Israel often rely on migrant workers. While most workers work for Israeli construction companies, and arrive under Bilateral Labor Agreement regulating recruitment and conditions of work, several thousand are workers of foreign-owned construction companies – mostly from Turkey and China. These companies bring their workers with them to work in Israel (this can be described as a form of 'posted' work). While Israeli law formally applies to their workers, the workers are tied to their employer and, except in the most extreme circumstances, cannot switch employers. Moreover, there is growing evidence that workers in these foreign construction companies pay high recruitment fees or commit to pay high penalties if they do not complete their contract with the company. In addition, workers complained about frequent and severe violations of workers’ rights. The Clinic represents a group of Turkish construction workers in a suit against their employer, a Turkish construction company. The suit advances a novel doctrine of employment under conditions of “abusive employment” (Ha’asaka Pog’anit - a term of art under Israeli labor law), amounting to human trafficking. This doctrine – currently under litigation – attempts to extend an existing category of abusive employment to achieve financial redress for human trafficking victims in labor courts. The case is pending before the Tel Aviv Labor Court (no. 14051-08-18) available here. [Hebrew]
This doctrine was also used, in later cases, to represent a group of students from Guatemala and Honduras who were severely exploited on farms; and a group of Ukrainian migrant workers exploited in the cleaning sector. See details below.
The Clinic represented (together with Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline) agricultural engineering students from Guatemala and Honduras in a suit against the training center and against the students' employers, a regional council. These students came to Israel because they were promised participation in an academic-level studies program, including practical training in the most advanced agricultural technology in Israel. Instead, they found themselves employed under exploitative conditions as manual workers in the agricultural industry. The suit, filed in the Be'er Sheva Regional Labor Court, advanced the doctrine of employment under conditions of “abusive employment” amounting to human trafficking. See the complaint, attached here. [Hebrew] The case ended in a settlement.
The Clinic is currently representing a group of 7 female migrant workers from the Ukraine, who were exploited in the cleaning sector, in a lawsuit in the Labor Court against cleaning services subcontractors and service customers. The workers were all employed under conditions of severe exploitation and were provided substandard housing, and suffered constant threats as well as sexual violence and abuse at work (their employer was convicted of rape but the prosecution did not indict them for human trafficking ). The suit will continue to advance the doctrine of “abusive employment” amounting to human trafficking.
The Clinic filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on behalf of a care worker against a company offering consulting services for obtaining a work visa for Canada. The suit suggested the company operated systematically to exploit migrants, and did not provide the services promised. The case ended in a settlement.
We assisted the first sex workers’ organization in Israel - Argaman [“Scarlet” in English] – Organization of Working Women - in their establishment and registration process. Argaman seeks to ensure the voice of sex workers is heard in policy processes, to fight the stigmas against sex work, and to promote sex workers’ rights.
Hotline for Employers of Migrant Care Workers
Migrant care workers in Israel are mostly employed by dependent elderly, many of whom receive a social security long term care benefit to pay for their services. Employers of migrant care workers often describe their situation as being “stuck” in the status of an employer by necessity, and not out of volition. In this sensitive dynamic, both the employers and the workers find themselves in need of assistance on various legal issues related to the employment. This understanding led to the foundation of the hotline for employers of migrant workers – an email address and a Facebook page - which is operated by the Workers’ Rights Clinic. Through the hotline, we seek to assist employers of migrant care workers, inform them about their duties toward the workers they employ and their own rights as benefit recipients, and map the challenges of employment created by governmental policies on in-home care.
Care Workers’ Migration: Towards an India-Israel Bilateral Labor Agreement
In 2018, NALSAR Law School in Hyderabad and TAU Law school held a global classroom where students from each side studied the situation of migrant workers in the India-Israel corridor and worked on understanding the migration process and working conditions upon migration. The students learned about the rise of bilateral labor agreements as a tool to regulate migration and its powers and limits in protecting workers’ rights. They then drafted an annotated model bilateral labor migration agreement between the two countries, in an attempt to reduce workers’ vulnerability in the migration process, and create mechanisms to enhance their bargaining power.
Clinical collaboration: The Labor Migration and Trafficking Clinic at NALSAR and the Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic at TAU.
Course Instructors: NALSAR: Prof. Vasanthi Numshakavi; TAU: Dr. Hila Shamir, Adv. Idit Zimmerman, Adv. Shimri Segal, Prof. Neta Ziv.