A worker carries trays of fresh eggs in a packing plant in the central Israeli farming community of Ramot Hashevim. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Israel Raises Minimum Wage, Avoiding Strike

Private sector jobs see minimum wage increase of NIS 700 over two years

Stephanie Butnick
December 03, 2014
A worker carries trays of fresh eggs in a packing plant in the central Israeli farming community of Ramot Hashevim. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

Israel’s labor federation and business leaders agreed Tuesday night to raise the country’s minimum wage, narrowly avoiding a strike, Haaretz reports. The minimum wage for private sector jobs will increase from NIS 4,300 (roughly $1,076) per month to NIS 5,000 (roughly $1,252) over the next two years. The agreed-upon increase, though, doesn’t apply to public sector jobs. (Expanding the deal to include government employees would require the finance minister to sign off, which seems unlikely since Yair Lapid was fired from the position this week.) The first wage hike is expected to occur in April 2015.

Complaints about the low minimum wage, coupled with the country’s increasingly high cost of living, have dogged Israeli authorities in recent years. The J14 movement for social change, which swept the country in 2011, focused primarily on skyrocketing housing costs and largely concerned the country’s middle class. But it nonetheless brought international attention to mounting costs of living in Israel.

Debate over minimum wage is nothing new—in fact, in Judaism, such disputes go all the way back to the Talmud. As Jonathan Brandow wrote last month when U.S. state and local officials argued over whether to raise the minimum wage above the federally mandated $7.25 per hour, Jewish Talmudic sages had much to say on the matter:

The sages considered a bottom-level wage disrespectful, inviting discontent and resistance. Efforts to deliver quality work underlay the difference in wages for a given job, even when menial jobs like filling and stacking bags of dirt on a dyke are at issue. The Talmud uses the example of workers complaining to a foreman who tried to reduce their wages: “Since you told us (the job) was for four zuz (not two), we took the trouble of doing the work particularly well.”

In Israel, though, the wage hike comes amidst an increasingly unstable political climate. Netanyahu’s dismissal of Lapid as fiance minister and Tzipi Livni as justice minister means his coalition has been shattered. His call for an election less than two years after the last has created a combustible environment in which productive change (see: expanding the wage hike to the public sector) seems nearly impossible.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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