Haifa Chemicals' ammonia tank, Israel's largest ammonia tank, is seen in the Haifa bay area.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Haifa Chemicals workers barricaded themselves into the company’s southern factory on Thursday, protesting the mass layoffs the firm’s management announced the day before.
The demonstration occurred in response to the Haifa Chemicals declaration on Wednesday that it will be firing about 800 employees and shutting down its northern and southern facilities, which produce fertilizer and other materials from ammonia.
Blaming the government for failing to ensure a reliable ammonia supply, company executives said they had been paying workers for months while their factories were not able to function.
“We are not planning to leave here until there is a solution,” Yehuda Peretz, chairman of the Haifa Chemicals South workers committee, told Globes. “It is not in the hands of the management, but in the hands of the Environmental Protection Ministry, and we hope that someone will wake up and solve this nightmare.”
On Thursday morning, workers burned tires and blocked the entrance to the southern factory, located in the Mishor Rotem Industrial Zone, just east of Dimona and south of Arad.
The Haifa Chemicals facilities have not been able to operate since April, due to a government prohibition on refilling the company’s 12,000-ton ammonia processing and storage facility, according to the company.
The tank in question, which stores all of the ammonia imported by Israel, has long been dubbed by environmentalists as a ticking time bomb and has been subject to legal battles for years. The Haifa Port facility began to attract worldwide attention last year, when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it.
This spring, the High Court of Justice initially ruled that the tank must be emptied by April – a deadline that was subsequently extended to July 31, and then to September 18, following a series of appeals.
During the interim, however, Haifa Chemicals has not been allowed to refill the tank with more ammonia.
Haifa Chemicals is owned by the American holding company Trance Resource Inc., which is controlled by the Trump Group, where Jules Trump serves as chairman of the board. A Jewish-American businessman born in South Africa, Trump is not related to US President Donald Trump.
On Thursday afternoon, the Economy Ministry announced that it would be organizing a mediation session on Monday, with the participation of all the relevant parties.
The decision followed discussions held on Thursday morning with Justice Ministry representatives, which focused on interim solutions for supplying ammonia to Israeli industry, until a new long-term facility is built.
One option that the government officials examined was transporting ammonia to the South in the small containers known as Isotanks, the Economy Ministry said. If the Isotanks would only work for Haifa Chemicals’ southern plant, the parties would still need to find an alternative for the northern facility, the ministry warned.
To help resolve the crisis, the Economy Ministry said it would be convening the Monday meeting, together with representatives from the Environmental Protection Ministry, Justice Ministry, Health Ministry, Dimona Municipality and other professional bodies.