Court to hear arguments on port strike legality

Ashdod Port opposes strike, says it would cost NIS 2.5m a day.

July 25, 2013 19:30
2 minute read.
Ashdod Port.

Ashdod port 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In response to a petition filed by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce challenging the legality of looming strikes at Israel’s ports, the National Labor Court on Thursday said it would hold an informal meeting between the FICC, government, ports and the Histadrut labor federation on Sunday.

If the sides do not come to an agreement, the court would open a formal hearing into the matter and rule on the issue of legality itself.

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In response to government plans to reform the sea ports by introducing competing private ports in Ashdod and Haifa, the Histadrut declared a labor dispute in mid-July, which set the legal stage for a strike starting on Tuesday. The FICC responded by filing a petition to the National Labor Court, arguing that the nature of the reforms precluded the Histadrut from striking.

Because the reforms did not seek to renegotiate wages or working conditions, but simply add infrastructure to compete with the heavily unionized existing ports, the FICC protested that the Histadrut had no grounds to call a strike.

“This is an anti-democratic process, designed to obstruct the decision of a majority-elected government,” said FICC president Uriel Lynn, who accused the Histadrut of trying to preserve a monopoly over a crucial economic lifeline.

Adding the the Histadrut’s troubles: The Ashdod Port itself came out against the strike on Thursday, joining the FICC petition. While stressing that it had no intention of withdrawing from its agreements with the Histadrut, the port’s CEO Shuki Sagis decried attempts to put its 1,200 workers on strike, saying it would harm them, the port, and the Israeli economy.

He estimated the daily cost of a strike at NIS 2.5 million.

The Histadrut claimed that building private ports would significantly affect the financial standing of the existing ports, and that the reforms were enacted without including it in negotiation.

“The issue of port reforms is an issue that has been in process since 2003,” the Histadrut wrote in its rejoinder to the court. “Now there is an attempt to carry out reform at the port in a unilateral fashion.”

Previous agreements on reforms had laid out promises to ensure the livelihoods and work conditions of the workers, it added. If the reforms succeed in moving ahead, it continued, they will constitute “one of the gravest and most harmful blows to the rights of organized labor in Israel and to organized labor itself.”

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