Histadrut readies general strike in south as election looms

The potential strike will protest 140 layoffs from Israel Chemicals' (ICL) Bromine Compound plant.

March 10, 2015 20:10
2 minute read.

Histadrut protest [File]. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Histadrut labor federation is laying the groundwork for a general strike in the South starting on Thursday, just five days before the general election.

The potential action, which will protest 140 layoffs at Israel Chemicals’ (ICL) bromide compounds plant, would shut down or limit services in a wide variety of government office services. The strike would terminate Egged bus lines from Ashdod and further south; shut down local municipalities in the South; stop work at the Eilat and Ashdod ports; prevent flights at Eilat’s airport from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and shutter a variety of private businesses and universities.

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The trains will continue running “out of consideration for the commuting public,” the Histadrut said.

“For years, the state has allowed an entire region to suffer from waves of layoffs and skyrocketing unemployment, and, if we do not put an end to it now, the condition will only get worse,” Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn said.

A Histadrut spokesman said the union would not allow an ongoing strike to affect Election Day, though it is unclear if the shutdown of services in the days before will impede polling preparations or affect voter preferences.

The layoffs are part of an efficiency plan that also will see other workers laid off, but ICL has argued that it offered departing workers generous severance packages. Those over the age of 55 can take early-retirement packages paying NIS 15,000 a month, which is more than 50 percent above the average salary in Israel, while those under 55 are being offered double the legally required compensation.

Likewise, ICL noted that Israel’s job market is healthy, with unemployment at historic lows.

Although ICL makes billions in profits, it says the bromide compounds plant lost NIS 160 million last year, bringing losses over recent years to more than NIS 1.5 billion. Without plans to make the plant profitable, the company argues that it will have to close it altogether, thus endangering the livelihoods of the roughly 900 workers who still work there.

The Histadrut, for its part, has slammed the company for not being able to cut into its large overall profits, which were in the neighborhood of NIS 3 billion last year, to save jobs.

Earlier this week, the Finance Ministry said it would look into whether the company had violated its obligations to the state, which holds “golden shares” with special voting rights. ICL has been moving some of its operations abroad, recently opening an operations center in Amsterdam.

On Tuesday, the Histadrut demonstrated for a second time in Tel Aviv, blocking traffic on Ha’arba’a Street and Ibn Gvirol Street, a major traffic artery.

On Wednesday, it plans to hold a second demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence.

It held its first demonstration there last week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on his way to Washington.

Netanyahu seemed to backtrack on his position this week, instructing the government to look into the alleged “golden shares” violations.

Just days before, the Likud released an ad attacking parties on the Left as beholden to the Histadrut.

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