Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Histadrut labor federation said it would initiate a general strike a week from Sunday, if the Finance Ministry did not meet its demands on the minimum wage and other issues.
“There is one address: the finance minister, and he has the power to decide that we are changing the minimum wage, reducing poverty and changing the conditions of contract workers. The Finance Ministry is doing everything to change the subject,” Histadrut chairman Avi Nissankoren said, speaking at the Sderot Conference for Society at Sapir Academic College. “If the subjected is not resolved, the Histadrut will fight and we will fight without compromise.”
Nissankoren cannot legally begin the strike until December 2, two week after the Histadrut declared a labor dispute. Previously the strike was conditionally set to begin on December 4. The new date gives the negotiators an extra weekend to hash out their differences.
Negotiations with the Finance Ministry failed to move forward on both Tuesday night and Wednesday.
The Finance Ministry accused the union of refusing to talk about crucial issues such as a maximum wage for civil servants, easing restrictions on managing labor, and improving citizen services while improving contract worker conditions.
“The Histadrut is again protecting the strongest workers who are controlled by the big unions and refuses to agree to a minimum wage hike that focuses on weak workers, who really need this increase,” the ministry said.
Nissankoren accused the Treasury of negotiating in bad faith.
The Histadrut has campaigned on raising the minimum wage from NIS 4,300 a month to NIS 5,300 a month, but has rebuffed concessions from both government and businesses that would raise it to NIS 5,000.
He also called out Finance Minister Yair Lapid over his 2015 budget proposal, which is stalled in the Knesset amid political infighting. Though Lapid refers to the plan as a “social budget,” Nissankoren said it did not offer ways to reduce social gaps.
“The gap between the rich and poor is a national disaster,” Nissankoren said, pointing out that the state employs 15,000 teachers as contract workers. He also blamed the government for lack of progress in discussions on reforming the ports and the Israel Electric Corporation.
A Bank of Israel study released on Wednesday found that Israeli wages rose on par with most OECD countries in the past 20 years. Though they have returned to the growth trend of the ‘90s, wages spiked from 1999 to 2001 and then crashed, and have yet to fully recover.
“As for the labor share in GDP, Israel is not all that different from other OECD members, both in terms of its level and in terms of its decline over the past 15 years,” the report said.
Wages in Israel are relatively low because hourly productivity is low, the study said.
Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug has said that a moderate rise in minimum wage would be appropriate.