Pending breakthrough, general strike set to begin

Histadrut, Finance Ministry hold late-night negotiations on status of contract workers.

February 8, 2012 00:50
2 minute read.
Histadrut Chairman Eini, Finance Minister Steinitz

Histadrut Chairman Eini and Finance Minister Steinitz 311. (photo credit: Reuters and Channel 10)

A general strike was set to begin on Wednesday at 6 a.m., dependent on the outcome of late-night negotiations between the Histadrut and the Treasury over the employment status of contract workers.

Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz sat down in Jerusalem at 9 p.m. on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to resolve outstanding issues, and were still locked in discussions when The Jerusalem Post went to press. Earlier in the day, the two men held a one-hour meeting that ended without resolution.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a plea late on Tuesday for Eini to call off the strike, saying the economy was in “a delicate situation” and that it was not the right time to risk stability achieved through cooperation between the government and the Histadrut.

“A strike will not solve the problem of contract workers,” Netanyahu said. “It is possible to improve the conditions of contract workers without shutting down the economy and disrupting citizens’ lives. There is no magic solution to the employment problems that have been created here over decades; it is possible to resolve the issue through dialogue.”

Just before his late-night meeting with Steinitz, Eini reached an agreement with the other major player in the three-month-long negotiations, Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations chairman Shraga Brosh, representing employers.

Eini and Brosh said in a joint statement that they had made progress on a number of issues, including the transfer of some cleaners from contract work to direct employment.

The strike will shut down basic services, including government offices, institutions of higher education and banks. Public hospitals will operate according to Shabbat timetables.

Click here for a full list of the services that will be suspended as part of the general strike.

Staff at Ben-Gurion Airport will strike between 6 a.m. and noon. Train services will stop completely, but Egged and Dan buses will continue to operate.

The economy will lose NIS 400 million each week that the strike is allowed to continue, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC).

On Tuesday afternoon, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition from the FICC to issue an injunction against the strike. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Uzi Vogelman made the decision behind closed doors in response to the petition that was submitted on Monday.

Vogelman explained that the High Court preferred not to intervene in decisions made by the National Labor Court, which had special expertise on labor laws. He added that the FICC had failed to identify any errors in the labor court’s ruling that would justify the High Court’s intervention.

National Labor Court President Nili Arad lifted an injunction against the strike last week, saying there had been no choice but to declare that negotiations had reached a deadlock. Arad first ordered the Histadrut, Treasury and employers to conduct talks after allowing the labor federation to hold a four-hour strike on November 7.

FICC president Uriel Lynn called Tuesday’s decision by the High Court “incorrect,” saying the justices had failed to reach the right balance between employers’ basic rights and the Histadrut’s right to strike.

If the Histadrut’s demands for direct employment of contract workers in the public and private sectors are met, Lynn added, the economy will be put at risk and there will be a repeat of what happened in the 1980s, when 30 companies operated by labor enterprises went bankrupt.

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