Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday announced a hike in the minimum wage for public sector workers. The move however was condemned by opponents as cynical electioneering.
Netanyahu made the announcement after a meeting with the Histadrut central workers union head Avi Nissenkorn, and Manufacturers Association of Israel president Zvi Oren. Netanyahu said that the minimum public sector wage would be no less than £815 per month, commenting, “Adding the public sector to the agreement is good news that will reduce the [income] gaps in Israeli society.” The announcement comes just weeks after a similar agreement was reached regarding private sector wages between the Histadrut and the Manufacturers Association.
The cabinet and Knesset must approve the new measure for it to become law. With the Knesset having dissolved itself prior to the election on 17 March, it is unclear how and when the new minimum wage will be enacted.
Furthermore, Netanyahu’s announcement was greeted by political opponents with cynicism. Since the election was announced, Netanyahu has also pledged to cut VAT on basic goods, a measure he had previously appeared to oppose. Labour MK Eitan Cabel commented sarcastically, “Good morning to the social activist, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has suddenly remembered that it’s not okay to pay people starvation wages. What social sensitivity … unrelated at all to elections.” Meretz leader Zahava Galon said, “Ahead of elections, Netanyahu woke up to the sad reality his policies have created, and is stealing his election campaign from Meretz’s platform.” Meanwhile, Hatnuah MK Amir Peretz said cautiously, “I hope that this is not an election stunt.”
Debate over the minimum wage comes amid wider discussion regarding Israel’s socio-economic situation. The Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies last week published its “State of the Nation” report which demonstrated that just 20 per cent of Israeli households save money. Meanwhile, the NGO Latet will publish a report today indicating that 2.5 million Israelis live in poverty, significantly more than suggested by the National Insurance Institute.