The big manpower companies are in talks with the Histadrut labor federation and the ministries of finance and industry, trade and labor over extending the duration of temporary employment of manpower company workers.

Among the companies promoting this effort are Manpower Israel, ORS and Ortal Manpower Services.

The Employment of Workers by Manpower Companies Law, initiated by Amir Peretz during his chairmanship of the Histadrut, determines that manpower company workers would become regular employees of their actual workplaces after nine months on the job.

The state postponed the implementation of this directive four times, with the last postponement valid until January 2008.

TheMarker has learned that the big manpower companies are negotiating for the extension of the temporary employment period to two years. Such an extension would be to the manpower companies' benefit, and to the detriment of the employees.

Manpower Israel CEO Dalia Narkiss is pleased with the negotiation initiative.

"The [implementation of the] directive dealing with the duration of temporary employment is constantly being postponed, and it is obvious to us that the treasury plans to postpone it again. We feel that the duration of a worker's temporary employment must be set, in order to avoid a situation in which people are employed as manpower workers for too long."

Narkiss believes it is better not to insist on the implementation of the directive.

"A period of less than two years is something that the market cannot bear," concurs Amos Luzon, CEO of ORS.

"There must be an end to temporariness, but nine months is too short a period. After nine months workers will simply be fired and others hired in their place. Two years is a period in which the employer has time to get to know the employee, and vice versa. I do not think extending this period [from nine months] perpetuates temporariness for the workers."

Histadrut spokesman Eyal Melma says that the Histadrut's goal is to set the period for temporary employment, and that the labor federation is negotiating with the treasury, the manpower companies and the employers in order to achieve a formula that will advance the directive's implementation.

"As for the duration of temporary employment, that issue is still in the early stages of discussion," says Melma.

Hannah Zohar, director of Kav La'Oved Workers Hotline, feels that extending the temporary employment period will not be good for the workers.

"The extension of the temporary employment period to two years contradicts a clear statement in the expansion order and the Employment of Workers by Manpower Companies Law, which refers only to temporary employment. Two years is not temporary. The only thing that will effectively work in the employees' favor would be the parity of employment terms from the very first day."

The agreement signed by the Histadrut Labor Federation, the National Workers Labor Federation and the big manpower companies, which later received an expansion order, upgraded the status of manpower company employees, although some say there is still a long way to go. The agreement grants manpower company employees better rights than the basic rights guaranteed them by the protective laws - such as 13 vacation and 24 sick days a year.

The agreement likewise states that the employees will be eligible for employer contributions to a pension plan after nine consecutive months of work.

A survey conducted by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry found that 4.5 percent of all salaried employees in Israel in 2004 - about 85,000 workers - were employed through manpower companies.

Twenty-five percent of these workers earned minimum wage or less, compared to 10 percent among "regular" employees.

The survey also concluded that the collective agreement between the Histadrut and the manpower companies perpetuates the status of manpower company workers as second-class employees.