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Thursday, 26 July 2007

Caesaria Conference participants address labor force, Jewish identity

Caesaria Conference participants address labor force, Jewish identity
By Moti Bassok

"We have made Shabbat a day of rest, family bonding and shopping," said
Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor Eli Yishai, at the 15th Caesarea
Forum.

Addressing the special session devoted to "The Social and Economic
Implications of Adding Another Day of Rest" which opened the forum,
Yishai noted that we should not limit ourselves to watching what the
rest of the world does, but should consider also the nature of Israel as
a Jewish country.

A team headed by Professor Amir Barnea prepared a working paper for the
forum, which noted that 17 percent of all employees work on weekends.
When considering the implementation of an additional weekend day, Barnea
said, the main benefits that can be expected is are the social, benefit
in the form of another day of rest for employees which does not fall on
Shabbat, and increased coordination with economies of the West, in
particular with European countries.

Dr. Karnit Flug, director of research at the Bank of Israel, noted that
while the Israeli per capita production is slightly lower than accepted
levels in member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD), product per worker is slightly higher. The
reasons for the difference include a low rate of participation in the
workforce, and a rate of unemployment slightly higher than normal in
developed countries.

In addition, the average work week in Israel is 38 hours, and 39 in OECD
countries. Flug emphasized that adopting an additional weekend day would
result in further increasing the gap between Israel and the OECD
countries in terms of product. Our goal to put our standard of living on
par with that of the OECD nations will be jeopardized, she summarized.

'Sunday weekend is not alternative'

Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said
that his association opposes shortening the work week to four and a half
days, with the half day being Friday. "A shortened work week means a
loss of 23.8b shekels to the economy annually, 6b. shekels in industry
alone," he said. "This translates into 40,000 additional unemployed."

Uriel Linn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce,
said that Israel's identity as a Jewish country should not be ignored.
If Sunday is designated as a weekend day, he said, the erosion of Friday
as a work day will simply continue, and we will quickly find ourselves
with a four day work week. "Sunday as a weekend day is simply not an
alternative".

Former finance minister Silvan Shalom revealed that toward the end of
his tenure as minister he had considered shortening the work week to
follow the global trend.

"The economy is currently undergoing complete globalization, and
everyone needs to adapt to what is happening worldwide," said Shalom,
adding that transforming Sunday into a weekend day would dramatically
facilitate the economy. He said Israel currently has no real weekend -
when Friday, particularly in the winter, is a half work day, and there
is no public transportation, there is in effect no weekend day. Making
Sunday a weekend day, when the religious public can travel, shop and
indulge in recreation, will push the Israeli economy forward, he said.

Avraham Shohat, also a former finance minister, said that "if we decide
on Sunday as a weekend day, we are essentially deciding on two and a
half-day weekends, which is unrealistic." Nevertheless he believes there
is no other option but to make Sunday a weekend day.

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