Egged’s Jerusalem bus drivers launched a 24-hour strike Wednesday morning, wreaking havoc for commuters around the capital. The Histadrut labor federation is behind the strike, which it hopes will influence the state to keep Egged in business without a government tender.
Egged’s management blamed drivers for causing severe disruptions to members of the commuting public, but did not comment on the reasons for the strike.
“In light of the fact that the salaried drivers that are on strike in Jerusalem locked the Central Bus Station in the capital and blocked the access roads to it in private cars, dismantled buses, locks, chains and more, severe disruptions were incurred this morning on public transport to and from Jerusalem,” said Egged spokesman Ron Ratner.
Due to the chaos around the station, inter-city bus drivers needed to drop off passengers on Jaffa Street and return to their starting points around the country with empty buses.
“Egged’s management is making an effort to restore routine service and apologizes to passengers for the inconvenience created,” Ratner said.
While Egged did not shed light on the reasons for their drivers’ strike, the Histadrut did, presumably speaking for the drivers.
“The warning strike comes as a result of the negotiations between Egged and the Finance Ministry over the subsidies agreement between them.
As a result of the failed negotiations, Egged’s management unilaterally hurt the drivers by lowering their salary bonuses by 6.5%,” Histadrut spokesman Yaniv Levi told The Jerusalem Post.
Egged awards salary bonuses to drivers who work beyond their basic scheduled rotation. These bonuses can range between NIS 1,000 and 1,500 extra per month. However, in recent weeks, Egged has rearranged the local drivers’ rotations and extra lines in a way that has caused a 6.5% average cut to their bonuses.
Interestingly, if approved, state subsidies provided to the company by the ministry would go to Egged management’s salaries and pensions, company’s debts and other issues not directly related to drivers’ salaries.
Egged and the Finance Ministry have been negotiating for more than a year on the size and terms of those subsidies. During 2016, the ministry unilaterally transferred NIS 150 million to Egged in hopes they would use that money for streamlining measures, especially in Jerusalem.
The Finance and Transportation Ministries gave Egged four terms in order for the subsidies agreement to be signed: Streamlining measures that would see Egged’s efficiency rise by 2% a year; issuing tenders for private operators to take over 40% of Egged’s current bus lines that are deemed redundant by the state but are still operational; introducing at least one private investor into Egged to take over 51% of the company; and improving the company’s service levels to those expected from Israel’s private operators of bus lines.
Egged’s current management has not been keen on accepting those terms with the Histadrut’s public support.
Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn called the state’s demands from Egged “inconceivable.”
“The negotiations between the state and Egged have been going on for more than year, and despite no final agreement being reached, the state gave Egged more than a NIS 100m.
this year. Despite this fact, the level of service offered by Egged in Jerusalem has not been commensurate with the company’s obligations to the state. It is a shame that instead of improving its services Egged chooses to shut down its activity in that area at the public’s expense,” a representative of the Finance Ministry told the Post on Tuesday.
In light of the strike, the public transportation advocacy group 15 Minutes demanded that Transportation Minister Israel Katz issue immediate tenders for new rapid bus lines to Jerusalem, to be operated by companies other than Egged. A recent study conducted by the ministry revealed that Egged is only carrying out its transportation commitments in Jerusalem at a level of 17%, according to the CEO of 15 Minutes, Gil Yaakov.
A state source familiar with the Histadrut- Egged-state negotiations, said the Histadrut and Egged are trying to prevent any measures of privatization or introduction of competition.
“While carefully worded, [Histadrut] comments on the matter reveal that the labor organization is trying to preserve Egged management’s inefficient operations without competition or tender.” According to the source, this can cost the state up to NIS 6b.
“We request that the Transportation Ministry put all of Jerusalem up for a new tender, in order to choose operators that can provide proper service to the city,” the organization said.
“He who holds public transportation commuters in Jerusalem hostage, he who harms us, in our time and livelihood, without an alternative and at the expense of taxpayers, is unfit to serve the public in Jerusalem.”
Later, on Wednesday afternoon, the Transportation Ministry’s Public Transportation Authority director Meir Chen announced that, due to the “deterioration in Egged’s level of service,” the office decided to summon Egged executives to a hearing related to compliance with the terms of their license.
The ministry stressed that a new subsidy agreement with the company would be signed only after Egged meets all of its license terms.
Over the past eight months the level of service at Egged has markedly decreased, throughout the country and particularly in Jerusalem, a statement from the ministry said. Data gathered by the ministry indicated that 6% of Egged’s planned journeys did not occur, impacting about 7.8 million passengers – 2.6 million of those in Jerusalem alone – forcing travelers to wait at stations for the next buses.
As a result, Transportation Ministry officials informed Egged of their decision to deduct NIS 9m. from the government subsidy to the company, as well as slash another NIS 50m. for performance failures throughout the country.