IBA workers get temporary reprieve

Layoffs removed from public broadcast bill; Histadrut strikes canceled.

August 31, 2015 01:15

IBA EMPLOYEES protest outside the Knesset yesterday. The sign reads, ‘Democracy=Public Broadcasting’. (photo credit: IBA)

The 1,580 staffers of the Israel Broadcasting Authority who anticipated dismissal notices in the near future were given a temporary reprieve on Sunday thanks to the intervention of the Histadrut labor federation.

The labor union began a series of solidarity strike actions in response to the IBA crisis and in the knowledge that the same so-called “efficiency measures” imposed on the body could be applied to any state-owned enterprise.

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Shortly before the special Knesset committee formed to vote on the Israeli Broadcast Corporation Law met to authorize it for its final reading, Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn and incoming Science, Technology and Space Minister Ophir Akunis – responsible for the IBA – agreed to scrap plans for layoffs and wage cuts from the bill. The committee is headed by MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud).

Nissenkorn, in exchange, suspended all the related labor sanctions, which included work stoppages at the ports, in trade transport and in tax collection.

The parties will now enter negotiations over the scope of the efficiency plans and how it will effect employees.

The bill would have seen some 500 workers laid off, as plans to trim its budget by NIS 10 million a month went into effect. Nissenkorn is demanding that the new public broadcast entity take on over 25 percent of the IBA’s current employees.

Before the agreement, Nissenkorn had warned that the bill, as planned, would “land a fatal blow to public broadcasting in Israel.”

Union leaders said the government could adopt the IBA as precedent and decide on a whim to initiate legislation that will call for large-scale dismissals at other state bodies.

The labor dispute declared by Nissenkorn two weeks ago has been suspended but not canceled and can be revived at any time should the government once again renege on agreements reached with or about the IBA.

The special committee authorized the Israeli Broadcast Corporation bill, including the amendment to delay the workers’ dismissal. The legislation also retroactively cancels the TV tax from January 2015.

The legislation is expected go to for final vote in the Knesset on Wednesday, after the budget has its first reading.

Akunis said, “The Knesset took an important step in promoting the formation of a new, varied and balanced Israeli Broadcast Corporation that will allow all stances, views and cultures in Israel to be expressed.”

Prior to the meeting, IBA liquidator Prof. David Hahn said he could not continue under such circumstances and that unless a more liberal attitude was taken by the Finance Ministry, the IBA would have to close at the end of September.

Akunis also said before and during the meeting that if the amended bill did not pass its second and third readings, the IBA would become history at the end of that month.

Yona Wiesenthal, who was brought in as director-general and editor-in-chief of the IBA during the transition period, and was a front-line runner to head up the new public broadcasting service, handed his resignation to Hahn over the weekend, saying he would not be a party to letters of dismissal being sent out just ahead of Rosh Hashana.

Wiesenthal was also said to be unhappy with the fact that he had been stripped of some of his authority whereas that of Eldad Koblenz, who has been charged with setting up the new public broadcasting entity, has been enhanced.

Few IBA employees believe that the replacement venture will ever get off the ground.

While they are prepared to accept the drastic reforms that were previously agreed and signed by representatives of the Finance Ministry, the Histadrut and the National Union of Journalists, they will fight the shutdown of the IBA until the last moment – and beyond.

They are convinced that the dissolution of the IBA is just the beginning of a means for the government to control all the media in Israel, and to abolish those media outlets that do not comply with its directives.

This opinion is shared by many of the staff at Army Radio, which is also in danger of becoming extinct.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, who did not agree with the manner in which Hanegbi was running the meeting and who declared that Israel was a democracy and not a dictatorship, was expelled from the meeting on Hanegbi’s orders.

Margalit said that he and the Hatzlacha Movement would file a petition in the High Court of Justice against the reluctance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who also holds the Communications portfolio – to appoint a public committee to oversee the establishment of the new public broadcasting service.

Even those members of the coalition and opposition who had voted in favor of the public broadcasting law said that the way in which IBA employees are being treated is unconscionable and inhumane.

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), who last year voted against the legislation, said there was no reason to vote for the amendments. He said he was in favor of going back to the previously agreed reforms and even making them more stringent, but did not want to be associated with the destruction of the IBA.

IBA staffers have in recent days mounted a campaign to garner support for their cause from across the political spectrum, and have at least one government minister on their side: Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz (Likud), who said on Israel Radio that he had gone into politics to be the voice of the workers in the Knesset.

“I will be your ambassador,” he told veteran broadcaster Arye Golan.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), a former IBA television reporter and chairman of the IBA, welcomed Katz’s support, and said “Haim Katz is in his soul on the side of the worker, and I’m glad that there’s a voice in the government fighting against the closure of the IBA.”

Shai said that speaking from personal experience every government wants to control communications and silence negative voices, but this government is “obsessive” in its opposition to the IBA.

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said he is glad the article requiring that IBA workers be fired was removed from the bill, especially because there are holidays coming up. He expressed concern, however, that a solution was not found for workers aged 45-50 who will not receive a pension if they are dismissed and have not been promised that they can keep their jobs.

Niv Elis contributed to this report.

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