Caregiver Workforce Crisis: A Strike Barely Avoided; Foreigners to Bolster Labor Shortage
There is a critical workforce crisis among all organizations serving people with disabilities in Israel. Salaries are very low, not even a living wage. Burnout is high. The job is physical and emotionally draining. Due to recent wage agreements with the Ministry of Education, disability services were losing similarly skilled employees to schools, who can pay special education aides higher.
In recent years, organizations serving people with disabilities have warned of a dramatic workforce shortage, which recently reached a negative peak. According to data from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security, there is at least a 33% ongoing workforce shortage relative to the standard set by the Ministry – about 3,000 counselor and caregiver positions. These organizations currently provide solutions for about 30,000 people with disabilities of all ages – from the very young to the elderly.
Organizations that provide services for about 7,500 children with disabilities obtained a meager 10% of the 18% requested increase to give caregivers a living wage.
Due to the trickling departure of employees who just cannot afford to work in the field, dozens of NGOS for people with disabilities have begun to collapse. Some have closed and some have reduced in size. For almost all of them, the remaining number of staff is inadequate and most are doing double work.
Pleas for salary increases for caregivers for over 20,000 adults with disabilities, who make about $8.07 USD an hour and $1,318 USD monthly, had gone unaddressed until a recent threat of shutdown stimulated action.
At the last minute, on August 31, in response to a workers’ coalition of a September 1 strike, the ministries of Finance and Welfare and Social Affairs reached an agreement with relevant Israeli disabilities services organizations, which will affect tens of thousands of caregivers.
Israel has agreed on a deal to officially recognize caregivers of people with disabilities as a profession holding a “special status,” which includes a wage hike, bonuses, and training courses totaling up to NIS 330 million.
As part of the deal, the government will bring in thousands of foreign workers to address the lack of workers in the field. The agreement follows months of negotiations between the ministries and the organizations.
According to Chimes Israel’s CEO, Jorge Zimmermann, “It’s better than nothing but it’s not enough. To put our employees on par with those in the special education schools, we will have to raise money and make up the salary difference. They can get better money as waiters or working at home on computers. They are doing the very heavy work, sometimes lifting very large people. The heaviness not only effects their hands, but also their hearts. It is not so easy to be with someone who cannot be in control of themselves or be able to say, I appreciate you.”
The campaign to raise the salaries of caregivers and counselors united 35 organizations from all over the country that care for people with disabilities. The organization sent to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi an August letter warning of the collapse of disability caregiving organizations. “In light of the severe lack of workers, and after all our requests to raise the caregiver and counselor salaries have not been answered, we announce the shutdown of services.”
In addition, the parents of those with disabilities had formed a group to support their children’s caregivers, and have been protesting in key locations throughout the country over the summer.
“The worker is a human being, said Zimmermann. “They have children. They have families. They need enough money to sustain their lives.”