The Histadrut labor federation's coordination and implementation committee declared a labor dispute Thursday morning over individual contracts at local authorities and government and civil service offices.

A labor dispute opens up the possibility of organized protests and strikes after 14 days.

“The goal is not to get to that, but if we have to we will,” Histadrut spokeswoman Dafna Cohen-Nouriel said.

The Histadrut says it is calling the dispute to protest Finance Ministry foot-dragging on negotiations over individual contracts that Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz agreed to in a February 2012 deal.

The NIS 800 million deal, which ended a general strike over contract workers that shut down government offices and banks, and hindered the operation of public transportation and trash collection, included a provision to continue intensive negotiations on the issue of individually contracted workers within a year.

“This is not the end of the process,” Eini said of the agreement at the time. “We have put our foot in the door.”

According to the Histadrut, the 8,000 to 9,000 individually contracted laborers in the government have less job security than those employed through collective agreements.

The Finance Ministry says individual contracts provide it with the necessary flexibility.

“Any reduction in the level of individual contract employment must take into account the special characteristics of government service and the need to solve not just the Histadrut’s problems, but also the many difficulties government service employment faces and the need for employment flexibility,” a Finance Ministry spokesman said.

The union said several negotiation entreaties by Avi Nissan Koren, the chairman of its trade wing, to Finance Ministry wage supervisor Kobi Amsalem went unanswered.

The ministry avers that it has conducted intensive work in recent months to improve government personnel management, including pursuing reforms to the Civil Service Commission.

“It seems the Finance Ministry is more comfortable with leaving the situation as it is,” Nissan Koren said Wednesday, accusing the ministry of using individual contracts to bypass collective agreements at the expense of employees. “Individual contract must be transferred to collective agreements.”

“I’m saddened that we are forced to declare a labor strike, but the Treasury had a full year to enter negotiations and they chose not to,” he added.

When asked whether the dispute was ill-timed given the fact that a government coalition has not yet been formed and a budget for 2013 has yet to be passed, Cohen- Nouriel replied, “The agreement was signed a year ago. There was plenty of time to conduct negotiations.”

“You can’t ignore workers, and you can’t ignore an agreement that was signed by the finance minister and the head of the Histadrut,” she said.

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