Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud faction meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Unless the Finance Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as communications minister, change their approach to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, chances are high that two weeks from now, there will be a general strike in the public sector.
Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, declared a labor dispute in the public sector on Sunday evening in protest at the brutal manner in which the Finance Ministry is treating employees of the IBA, which is in liquidation and scheduled to close down at the end of March 2016.
The Finance Ministry has been withholding funds from the IBA, making it increasingly difficult for the public broadcasting service to meet its operational costs and to pay for new productions.
Several IBA broadcasters have taken it upon themselves to use the micro - phone at their disposal to make the public aware of what it means to be left in suspense for years during nego - tiations for reforms – agreements which never came to fruition – and constant threats to their livelihood. The situation is causing widespread anxiety and depression, the organiza - tion’s workers have asserted.
In the past, the National Union of Israeli Journalists – primarily working through its affiliate, the Jerusalem Journalists Association – defended the interests of IBA journalists, while the Histadrut took care of non-journalistic employees. The Histadrut now says it is disturbed by the aggressive unilateral measures that are being taken against IBA employees, and has therefore decided to use its clout in an effort to protect their interests as well as those of postal company employees, who are being treated in a similar manner.
Over the past year, scores of IBA employees have left voluntarily, unwilling to wait for the ax of liquidation to fall on their heads, and some 50 others are now contemplating early retirement. But there are 1,500 employees whose jobs are on the line.
Nissenkorn views the measures being taken against IBA employees as violating their rights.
In an interview on Monday morning with Israel Radio’s Aryeh Golan, Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who chairs the Knesset Economics Affairs Committee and is a former minister responsible for the implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Law, welcomed the Histadrut’s intervention. Cabel said that, although he had voted in favor of the decision by former communications minister Gilad Erdan to close the IBA and establish a new public broadcasting service in its place, his first concern is for the welfare of its workers and the right of the public to have a professionally and independently operated public broadcasting service free of political influence and interference.
Cabel accused Netanyahu of wanting to maintain control over public broadcasting, and cited as evidence of this the fact that Netanyahu has not yet appointed a public broadcasting council. He urged the prime minister to appoint a council without delay.
While pleased that the Histadrut has joined the struggle of the IBA employees, Cabel questioned the professional loyalty of their colleagues in other branches of the media. “Where are all your colleagues who attacked me and came out so passionately on behalf of Israel Hayom ?” asked Cabel who had cosponsored a bill calling for the banning of free daily newspapers, but which was generally interpreted as calling for the closure of Israel Hayom specifically, whose readership has outstripped that of Yediot Aharonot, formerly the most widely read paper in the country.
By coincidence, the two-week period which the Histadrut has to call a strike after formally announcing a labor dispute ends on August 30. That is the same day that Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, who chairs the special Knesset committee appointed to formulate amendments to the public broadcasting law that was passed last year, has called a meeting. The amended legislation is intented to pave the way for the interim director of the new public broad - casting entity, Eldad Koblentz, to go ahead with plans for the new venture. As far as is known, 700 of the present 1,500 IBA employees will be taken on, and Koblentz will also have the freedom to bring in 400 outsiders to the organization.