The government will continue its efforts to advance reform in the ports, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Thursday.
“The sea will open to competition, just as we opened the sky,” Katz said, in a reference to the Open Skies agreement with the European Union, which led to a Histadrut labor federation-led air strike when it was announced in April 2013.
The minister’s remarks came in the midst of a media tempest over the arrests of 15 Ashdod Port workers and vendors, including union chief Alon Hassan, this week, on allegations of corruption reaching into the millions of shekels. Katz has publicly clashed with Hassan over initiatives to introduce competition to the ports.
Katz continued his silence on the arrests, however, choosing instead to focus on the reforms during his speech at the inauguration of Ben-Gurion Airport’s Track 21 runway on Thursday.
“Of course we all remember the same pressures and attempts to prevent me from leading that [the port reform]. I was firm and remained firm. The reform will happen, and the new ports will be built in Ashdod and Haifa,” he said.
The port reform will see privately built and run ports built alongside existing ones in the two cities.
The National Labor Court has barred the union from going on strike, ordering it to negotiate with the government instead.
Some 60 percent of Israel’s GDP goes through the ports, according to the Economy Ministry, meaning that their operations have significant effects on the prices of exports, imports and domestic products that compete with foreign goods.
Hassan’s temporary replacement, his deputy Avinoam Shoshan, came to Hassan’s defense on Wednesday, insinuating that the ports’ problems had been laid at his feet for political purposes regarding the reforms.
“Whoever has a musical ear and a sharp eye saw that they put this whole issue of the ports on Alon,” Shoshan told a meeting of port workers.
“Today, more than ever, we – all the port workers in Israel – are united in a struggle against building the extraneous ports in Israel.”
The reforms would not affect the cost of living, he argued.
“It’s just a bluff. It’s just a story. We reformed the tariffs [charged to handle cargo], we reduced tariffs by over 30 percent, and who pocketed the money? The importers. Not a single citizen of the state feels the discount we gave,” Shoshan said.