'Airport strike costs millions of shekels a day'

Tourism Minister Misezhnikov upset that work stoppage comes at height of Israel's best ever tourism year; calls on Steinitz to negotiate deal asap.

September 13, 2010 15:10
3 minute read.
Passengers at Ben Gurion airport, Monday

Strike at airport 311 . (photo credit: Ben Spier)

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said that the Ben Gurion Airport employees' strike, coming at the height of Israel's best ever tourism year, will severely harm the country's tourism industry, costing millions of shekels a day. The comments came in a letter Misezhnikov wrote to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday.

Misezhnikov asked Steinitz to enter into intensive, fair and transparent negotiations with the Airports Authority workers regarding their pension rights, as anchored in government obligations in past years, in order to bring an end to the strike at the country’s national airport.

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“The ramifications of a strike precisely now on incoming tourism to Israel will be very significant both in the short term, causing suffering to tourists and passengers who will have to wait for hours before entering or leaving Israel, and in the long term, harming Israel’s image as a welcoming, high-quality tourism country," added Misezhnikov.

The Tourism Minister has instructed the Israel Government Tourist Office at the airport to increase its activities in order to offer assistance to tourists at Ben Gurion.

Ben Gurion Airport employees decided to unload luggage from all of the airplanes that landed on Monday despite the continuing general strike.

In addition, airplanes that were scheduled to fly to Uman in Ukraine to bring back Breslav Hassidim pilgrims will be allowed to depart.

The sides are continuing to negotiate in the hopes of reaching a deal on the issue of the workers' pensions.

Negotiations between representatives of Ben Gurion Airport employees and management failed earlier on Monday prompting airport workers to announce the work stoppage.

Israel Aviation Authority workers are requesting that management give them assurances that money saved for their pension funds will not be used for any other purposes.

Hundreds of Breslav Hassidim returning to Israel from Ukraine caused upheaval at the airport when they could not get their luggage because of the strike .

The Hassidim, returning from a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Breslav in the Ukranian city of Uman, yelled, played drums and sang. Some of them caused damage to the baggage claim conveyor belt.

Police were called to the scene, but no arrests were reported. Their luggage was eventually unloaded from the planes.

The airport employees originally planned to strike on Thursday, but were persuaded by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz not to strike in order to prevent the delay of Israelis coming home for Rosh Hashana.

Negotiations between the two sides began on Sunday and continued on Monday morning. The talks stalled at approximately 9 a.m., and the workers immediately began their strike.

Airplanes en route to Israel were not allowed to land at the airport, but baggage was unloaded from the planes while the strike continued.  It was originally planned that no planes would depart Ben Gurion Airport during the work stoppage.

Ben Gurion Employees' Committee chairman Pinchas Edan on Monday stated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the only one capable of solving the problem, Israel Radio reported.

“We will not stand by and see workers’ money put at risk," Edan said prior to the strike. "We have been trying to reach an agreement for two years, but the authority’s management keeps on dragging its feet and jeopardizing the workers’ pension funds,”  he added.

“We demand that the issue of the pensions be resolved and that their money be protected and earmarked exclusively for the purpose of pension payments and will do everything in our power to assure it."

Ron Friedman contributed to this report

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