Tuesday, November 28, 2006

[Israel] Israel strikes again

All out strike
Histadrut, Israel's largest trade union, held a general strike on Wednesday 28th November, shutting down the country's only international airport and all the ports, and most government offices. Over 5,000 religious council workers joined the strike which was called due to the Finance Ministry's refusal to fork out the necessary funds to pay masses of unpaid government workers.

The Ministry of Defense, Israel Lands Administration, Employment Service, National Insurance Institute, Bank of Israel, Tax Authority, courts and religious councils have all joined the strike. The Postal Company stopped delivering mail during the strike, but it's post offices were open as usual.

The train service was frozen but Dan and Egged buses continued operating. Banks, health services, Magen David Adom, and Mekorot (water company) worked as usual but Bezeq had no operator service and operated in Shabbat-mode, as did Israel Electric. At Ben-Gurion airport, flights were being allowed to land, but passengers were not receiving their luggage.

Some Interior Ministry offices initially refused to join the strike and opened to the public as usual Wednesday morning, however, by midday the head of the civil servants union, Ariel Yaakobi, had shut down those offices in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kfar Saba.

Why strike
The strike began at 6am on Wednesday, after the Histadrut union failed to reach an agreement with the government on providing funds to regional councils that have been unable to pay their workers for months.

Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson made their way to the National Labor Court on Wednesday evening for a hearing aimed at resolving the dispute that led to a general strike in the public sector called by the Histadrut.

Israel Radio reported that the Manufacturers Association estimated that the strike would cost the economy NIS 500m. per day. According to the Histadrut, 81 local authorities and 13 religious councils have failed to pay employees or transfer money to pension funds for months, affecting at least 40,000 workers. The Histadrut estimates a total of NIS 1 billion is owed.

The government is arguing that poor planning and mismanagement by regional councils led them to near bankruptcy far beyond the annual budget allocation.

No choice
The union members understand that the strike will hurt the economy, but felt they been left with no choice.

"I am not willingly calling a strike action," said Histadrut Chairman, Ofer Eini. "To avoid bringing labor relations to the brink, I allowed, in excess of legal requirements, a two-week extension to reach and sign a deal on the matter. But as no agreement has been signed, I have no choice but to inform you that the Histadrut will undertake industrial action in the coming days."

In September, the Finance Ministry prevented a general strike over the unpaid wages of local authority and religious council employees and firefighters by promising they would be paid by the end of September. An agreement was signed to transfer NIS 100 million to pay workers. Nevertheless, the Histadrut says that dozens of local authorities and religious authorities, and some municipal firefighters associations, have not been paid, while money due to be paid into pension and advanced training funds is also missing.

No comments: