Chairman Eli Yishai thwart the business licensing reform over Shabbat observance? The major reform planned by the Finance Ministry together with the employers' organizations, which is aimed at shortening and simplifying the process of granting business licenses, was scheduled to be approved in the coming weeks.
Now it seems, however, that the plan is about to be shelved after discussions have turned into a struggle over closing businesses on Shabbat between the Interior Ministry headed by Yishai and the Finance Ministry.
The Interior Ministry recently demanded that in order to receive a business license, the business owner must commit to abide by the working and rest hours act.
The Finance Ministry is furious at the demand, claiming it violates the status quo. According to the Treasury, the clause related to closing businesses on Shabbat is not enforced in practice, and only a small number of Industry, Trade and Labor inspectors are in charge of the matter.
"Bringing the Shabbat issue into the business licensing law will expose businesses working on Shabbat to the control of the local authorities' supervision system," a Finance Ministry official said.
Regulations including the sanctions which will be imposed on those breaking the law have not been formed yet, but violating this clause may lead to a temporary revocation of the business license and heavy fines.
"If the Interior Ministry continues to insist on the matter, we’ll shelve the law," a Treasury source told Yedioth Ahronoth's economic supplement. "It's better to make it complicated to issue a business license than to make it easy and have all businesses in Israel in danger of being closed down and receiving heavy fines for being open on Shabbat."
Uriel Lynn, chairman of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, who took part in the negotiations on the reform, warned Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz over the weekend that "if the changes in the business licensing law are approved, it will change from a law encouraging businesses to a law oppressing businesses, aimed at enforcing other laws relating to religious matters, labor laws, etc. This will be another impossible burden on opening and managing businesses."
The interior minister's office rejected the criticism, saying that "in terms of enforcing labor protection laws, including the working and rest hours act, there is no status quo. It's puzzling and odd that the Finance Ministry wants these laws not to be enforced.
"During his tenure as industry, trade and Labor minister, Eli Yishai increased the number of inspectors in charge of enforcing these laws, and as interior minister today he is still committed to the matter."