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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The general public strike set for Wednesday by the Histadrut Labor Federation was cancelled indefinitely after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intervened personally in efforts to solve the problem of months of non-payment of workers' salaries by local authorities.
"For the first time, the government has taken personal responsibility regarding the problem of non-payment of salaries at the local authorities," said Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation.
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In a meeting on Tuesday afternoon between Eini and the prime minister, both agreed to cancel the public strike planned for Wednesday after Olmert promised to take action. The prime minister emphasized that the genuine plight of the workers was the main reason why he chose to become personally involved in the crisis.
Olmert also sent a personal letter to Eini, in which he promised to discuss the non-payment of workers' wages in the next cabinet meeting, as requested by Eini.
"Although the government is not the employer of the local authority workers, we need to ensure proper and sound management of the local authorities and their obligation to pay workers' salaries," said Olmert in the letter to Eini. "I intend to closely watch progress on this issue and to identify problems in the process which could again require my personal involvement."
However, Olmert did not respond to the union's demand to approve the immediate transfers of funds to about 30 local authorities and 16 religious councils, which have not been able to pay their workers for months.
"I am committed to continuing to find a solution to the problem of non-payments of workers' salaries at the local authorities through the implementation of recovery programs," said Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson in reaction to the cancellation of the public sector strike.
In an effort to avert the public strike action scheduled for Wednesday morning, the Federation of the Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the Israel Airport Authority and the Ashdod Port Company on Tuesday sent a petition to the National Labor Court for a permanent injunction, which would prevent the Histadrut Labor Federation from executing a general public strike.
"Many of the respective local authorities who withhold workers' wages are failing to collect significant amounts of arnona (property tax) payments, which in turn represent a major part of their income and their ability to pay their workers' salaries," said the FICC. "The mismanagement and failure of the local authorities' obligation to pay workers' salaries on time must not be levied onto the shoulders of the government and the general public."
In the letter to Eini, Olmert said that the non-payment of workers' salaries was an unacceptable norm which required the imposition of measures against employers who did not pay workers' salaries on time.
Meanwhile, Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) workers on Tuesday went on a two-day strike in protest of the government's proposed structural reform of the company.
The National Labor Court on Monday night authorized a request by the IEC workers to take action in response to the government's unilateral legislation calling for reforms to break the IEC's electricity monopoly.