Histadrut, the biggest Israeli trade union federation, has declared that it will be allowing legal migrant workers to become members as early as March 2010. Sources from Kav LaOved claim that this is a result of pressure from competing federation Koach La Ovdim, as the latter gains ground in traditional Histadrut areas and is also starting to make headway into the migrant labor section.
Until now, migrant workers could not be members of Histadrut. As it is the biggest Israeli federation of trade unions, and trade unions in Israel are only acknowledged when they are part of a federation, this meant that they could not legally organize. This gap was covered by a non-profit called Kav LaOved - literally "Worker's Hotline" - which gives free advice and cheap labor representation, both for migrant workers and for others not covered by any of the unions, but does not have the legal protection afforded to actual union organizers.
Then, just three years ago, a new trade union federation came into being. Their name is Koach La Ovdim - literally "Power to the Workers". They started organizing in many heretofore non-unionized jobs, mostly in contract work and temporary employment, such as security workers, baggage handlers, waiting, and even lecture work at Israel's Open University - the only university without a prior collective employment agreement. More relevant to this latest move by Histadrut is reported progress by Koach La Ovdim in their organizational drive among Nepalese care-workers. This, along with increasingly common outbursts of militancy among Chinese construction workers, has probably contributed to Histadrut's policy change.
The ability to join Histadrut may help migrant workers overcome their basic precarity in the Israeli workforce: the fact that they are automatically made illegal as soon as their employer decides to fire them, leaving them with little in terms of practical legal recourse, and with occasional debts to the head-hunters who had brought them, making "illegal" work in Israel their only course of action. But this depends on how Histadrut organizers and lawyers deal with actual disputes as those occur. Moreover, the fact that it will only allow legal workers to join could make its involvement moot, with increased dues being the only benefit. It seems that the second quarter of 2010 may well be interesting, in any case.