b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
While the law prohibits and criminalizes forced or compulsory labor, and prescribes up to 16 years’ imprisonment for forced labor of an adult, the government did not effectively enforce laws for foreign workers and some citizen workers.
Some workers, particularly foreign workers, experienced conditions of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change or otherwise choose employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation. For example, the Turkish construction company Yilmazlar, which employed approximately 1,200 workers, took extensive measures to deter employees from escaping, including requiring a bond of up to $40,000 before starting work, paying salaries three months in arrears, and employing thugs to chase and beat those who escape, according to NGOs. In April, five employees sued Yilmazlar, alleging they endured forced labor. The company denied all allegations. The case was continuing as of December 3. In addition, an estimated 400 Chinese workers who arrived under agreements with five private Chinese employer associations incurred large debts to pay brokerage fees of up to $30,000 before arriving to Israel. These debts prevented employees from leaving their employer or reporting abuses, according to NGOs.
Foreign agricultural workers, construction workers, and nursing care workers–particularly women–were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including in particular nonpayment or withholding of wages. According to government and NGO data, as of October, foreign workers included approximately 113,000 documented foreign workers in the caregiving, agriculture, and construction sectors, including a few thousand in the “skilled worker” category and 39,000 who arrived under bilateral work agreements; 100,000 documented Palestinian workers; 40,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; 100,000 undocumented workers, mostly from countries of the former Soviet Union, who remained in the country after overstaying a visa-free entry or a work visa; and 30,000 irregular African migrants working semilegally in low-skilled jobs. Undocumented workers were not eligible for benefits such as paid leave or recourse in the event of workplace injury.
Palestinian laborers continued to suffer from abuses and labor rights violations, especially in construction, partly as a result of lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring. For example, despite a 2016 government resolution to issue permits directly to Palestinian construction workers rather than Israeli employers, PIBA continued to issue work permits to employers. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence which some employers and employment agencies exploited to charge employees monthly commissions and fees; half of Palestinian workers in Israel paid monthly brokerage fees of 1,000 to 3,000 shekels ($270 to $810), according to Kav LaOved. In many cases the employer of record hired out employees to other workplaces. More than half of the documented Palestinian workers did not receive written contracts or pay slips, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Gray-market networks of manpower agencies exploited visa-waiver agreements with countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to recruit laborers to Israel to work illegally, particularly in construction, caregiving, and prostitution, according to NGOs and government authorities. For example, some Israeli companies spread misinformation in Ukraine and Georgia about the possibility of working legally in Israel, then charged large sums of money as agents’ fees, and sometimes sold fake documentation, according to Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. In one case from 2017, an Ukrainian man was recruited by an Ukrainian manpower company and promised work in Israel. He stated that he paid $800 for the service and received guidance on how to pass border control at the Israeli airport, after which two Ukrainian-Israelis provided him with forged documents and took him to a factory where he worked with 15 other Ukrainians between 12 to 15 hours a day. The employer threatened the workers and forbade them from leaving the premises except to return to their apartments.
See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.