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The Other Israelis
Posted on Aug 7, 2011
Tabarrejo’s experience and relationship with her employer was “very, very difficult,” she recalled somberly. But she needed the money to support her extended family and diabetic brother in the Philippines.
She was constantly harassed, worked overtime, never got a full night of rest and wasn’t able to live out her own ethnic and cultural customs, like eating seafood.
Her official employer was an older woman who had suffered a stroke and had difficulty moving around the house. Her employer obsessed that Tabarrejo was stealing her money, clothes and personal items.
Tabarrejo was forced to share the same room with her employer (for which rent was deducted from her pay), like 31 percent of caregivers, and remained isolated in a fairly inaccessible village.
The small middle-aged woman laughed nervously as she recounted her story in a thick accent. Never married, the good-natured Filipina’s eyebrows raised as she recounted the most arduous portions of her story.
In a report released in December, Kav LaOved found that the live-in situation common to the caregiving sector can create a system of round-the-clock employment in which caregivers often work in extremely harsh conditions without adequate work-rest balance, resulting in health deterioration and injuries.
Almost a third (29 percent) of workers reported not receiving any regular breaks during the day. Almost half (46 percent) complain of back pain from lifting heavy patients or working household chores for long hours.
Uninterrupted sleep was impossible for Tabarrejo. At night, she awoke every two hours to help her employer use the bathroom. During the day, in addition to helping the elderly woman, she cooked, cleaned and ran household errands.
Tabarrejo was in effect given only one day off; she was allowed to rest from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Because of limited public transportation and the village’s remoteness, traveling to be with her friends and for leisure became unrealistic.
And anytime she was in her employer’s house, even during her time off, she was expected to work.
She was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Touching her chest, Tabarrejo repeated, “It was very difficult here deep [inside my] heart.”
Of the migrant caregivers surveyed by Kav LaOved, only 6 percent said they got a 36-hour rest period each week, as required by Israeli law. Practically all workers said they were on call 24 hours a day. The average caregiver worked 12.7 hours per workday adding up to more than 325 hours a month.
The report, which was presented at the United Nations committee that monitors discrimination against women, asserted that these issues are a function of the social isolation and financial vulnerability of migrant caregivers. Additionally, other widespread problems include employers withholding pay for months, refusing to pay overtime or provide benefits. And sexual assault of migrants is widespread, the report said.
While Tabarrejo hasn’t experienced sexual abuse, she said her friends have been subjected to various forms of molestation, including being forced to masturbate their employers, she said. According to the report, 35 percent of caregivers suffer verbal abuse, 12 percent suffer physical abuse and 4 percent suffer sexual abuse.
“I promise you, we are working very hard to save the rights of the workers,” said Lachmanovitch, citing a principle in Judaism to take care of one’s neighbors. But he admitted that deporting unauthorized migrants remains a central focus.
After two years and seven months of working for her first employer, Tabarrejo could take no more. She quit, with just two months of payments left. She was able to find another job where she has happily worked since.
In total, her loan cost her three times what she borrowed. She paid back almost $23,000.
In March, Tabarrejo’s second employer died. She’s been here longer than the 63-month standard allowed by her caregiver visa. She can no longer work or live legally in Israel.
Many workers with expired visas return to their countries of origin, but not all. Regardless, Israel still awards visas to thousands of new workers. In 2009, some 27,000 workers entered Israel while 23,000 left the country. In 2010, some 32,000 foreign workers entered Israel on work permits—an increase of 5,000 compared with the previous year, according to a government report. Meanwhile, 30,000 left the country.
Tabarrejo should be going back, but she won’t. She plans to continue working as a caregiver under the radar, she said. She has already found a temporary gig working for a friend who is taking a monthlong vacation to the Philippines. She plans to stay another year or two covering shifts for her friends.
Visa overstays or tourists turned permanent residents pose an ongoing challenge for the government, with more than 100,000 unauthorized migrants in the country.
In a country where the ever-present mix of Hebrew and Arabic serves as a constant reminder of the core identity crisis, South Tel Aviv is a jarring divergence from that dominant narrative.
With impromptu tin-sheet houses constructed alongside more permanent buildings and graffiti on the walls in a smorgasbord of written languages, the area has a distinctly foreign feel.
The neighborhood crystallizes around the central bus station, a looming concrete structure that is maze-like inside, with stores bursting with knockoff jeans, tchotchkes and Asian food filling all seven floors. Buses depart and arrive with such frequency that the surrounding buildings have picked up layers of grit from the smoke they belch as they navigate the tentacle-like ramps that lead to the station.
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