The chairman of the workers committee at Ashdod Port, Alon Hassan, returned to
work this week. He made sure that the dozens of photographers were able to
capture the moment as he parked his luxury car near the port
Over the past few weeks, the relationship between the staunch
workers unions and the government, which pays the workers’ salaries, has become
Newspaper headlines boldly ask: Who is working for whom? Do civil
servants work for the state or is it the other way around? Over the past few
years, state companies employees’ salaries have risen by tens of
Israel’s deficit and taxes have grown, electricity, water and
gasoline prices haven’t stopped rising and state companies have incurred huge
losses. Nonetheless, state companies’ salaries keep rising.
companies’ total loss in 2012 amounted to NIS 100 million.
In 2011, they
lost NIS 700m., mostly due to losses incurred by the Israel Electric Company and
Israel Railways. Haifa and Ashdod ports showed a slight improvement in
performance, but mostly due to investments and not revenue.
with other ports around the world, Israel’s ports are extremely
The average rate of port workers’ effectiveness around the
world is between 70% and 80%, whereas in Israel it is only 50%. The majority of
public companies’ revenue comes from defense firms such as Rafael Advanced
Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.
And what have Israeli
citizens received in exchange? A light rail in Tel Aviv has been in the process
of being built for decades. Twenty years ago, pressure from Dan and Egged bus
workers unions prevented its progress, and government incompetence is hampering
its completion. Port workers unions are threatening to prevent the building of
private ports, which would lower costs and ease citizens’ tax
Why? Because they can. Israel Railways is losing millions of
shekels. Trains constantly arrive late, there are dozens of professional and
operational malfunctions and the workers union supports nepotism. And after all
this, they constantly threaten to carry out endless strikes.
salaries rise with no direct connection to productivity and efficiency. Salaries
of Israel Electric Company employees, which were already among the highest in
the country, rose 18% last year and Haifa Port employees’ salaries rose
Annual revenue from state companies amounts to billions of shekels.
These funds could be used to ease citizens’ heavy tax burden.
never make it there; they are channeled straight into the pockets of the
country’s large and mighty unions. Despite receiving extremely high salaries,
Haifa and Ashdod employees operate the ports at only 50% of their operational
Israel Railways uses these funds to complete half-built
tunnels, replace iron train tracks and repair dozens of expensive train cars
that were involved in accidents since their drivers were unskilled.
funds would have been better spent building the light rail red line in greater
Highway interchanges take years to be built due to conflicts
between the construction companies and the government and to lack of funding.
The IEC alone lost NIS 700m. due to faulty management and professional
negligence, which caused tons of diesel fuel to spill into and contaminate the
The IEC was fined NIS 2.5m. as a result, but of course
all it had to do was raise consumer electricity rates to pay for it.
problem is that these companies continue to generate losses and the government
fails to take control of the situation, leaving the citizens to clean up the
mess and pay for these losses out of their own pockets time and
Our country’s resources belong to all of us, but they are being
managed by small, powerful groups that over the years have been successfully
preserving their power and their influence over policy-makers, resulting in
stagnation, waste and inefficiency.
Moreover, these same union heads take
advantage of their power over large government institutions to extract promises
from candidates ahead of elections. And their ringleader is the chairman of the
Histadrut labor federation – the organization that costs the country billions of
shekels. Supposedly it represents Israeli workers, but in practice the Histadrut
only supports its directors and strengthens them in their battle against the
There’s nothing wrong with having a balance of power between
civil servants and the government for which they work. But does such a balance
of power truly exist? No, it doesn’t. Our government is not a powerful and
authoritative governmental system with clear powers; it is weak and incapable of
functioning independently without the support of these committees and Histadrut
I’m not sure if Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett can
back up his militaristic declarations.
And neither can Finance Minister
Yair Lapid. At the end of the day, both of them just sit in the government,
dependent on the whims of the unions, the capitalists and the Histadrut. Bennett
and Lapid cannot successfully promote governmental programs without their
So who’s the real boss? Who determines Israel’s economic and
political agendas? Who holds the real power? Will this new government that is
supposed to operate under the principles of new politics finally bring about
change? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we will continue to pay the
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division
head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah