The Economy Ministry announced on Tuesday it intends to focus its resources on integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the workforce, and is earmarking NIS 500 million over the course of five years for this goal. The hope is that most of the country's Haredim will be working within the next 10 years, said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
He made the announcement before the Knesset’s State Control Committee, which discussed the State Comptroller's Report into government efforts to encourage ultra-Orthodox to work.
Within three months, a new employment center for Haredim will open in Jerusalem, at an investment of NIS 48 million, stated the Economy Ministry. Another center will open later in Bnei Brak, another Haredi stronghold next to Tel Aviv.
"The matter of Haredi employment is an acute one for Israel," said Bennett. "The critical dynamic here is poverty. People who lack the economic means to study Torah from morning til night will go seek work on their own. The wars and politics are over. Getting Haredim into the workforce is welcome and we need to start working."
He also addressed the fact that not enough people, neither Haredim nor others, study to enter fields in high demand.
"There's a mismatch between what's needed in Israel and what's happening. Everyone's going to study law, instead of, for instance, programming," he said. Our goal is to set up a hotline, a website and employment centers for Haredim around the country and to see most Haredim working within the next 10 years," he said.
The country lost NIS 4 billion in 2009 due to the Haredi community’s meager participation in the workforce, Shmuel Golan, deputy director of the State Comptroller's Office, told the panel. Only about 45% of Haredi men work.
"Nearly nothing has changed in seven years, and there are still lots of bureaucratic hurdles," said committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas), who called on the government to ensure that budgets for encouraging Haredi employment would be secured for several years ahead to minimize employers' concerns.