Israel’s economic bottom line is that the Treasury is scurrying around in search
of ways to fill the budgetary shortfall while the Histadrut labor federation
does its utmost to scuttle most remedial measures.
On the face of it,
this is nothing new. We are treated to such maneuvers whenever a state budget is
Nevertheless, this year is different enough to warrant more
responsible Histadrut reactions. As worsening global recession looms, our
deficit has grown to disconcerting proportions – a reality that necessitates
We have, however, a new, untried finance
minister whose fiscal prudence, or otherwise, is not yet known. Yair Lapid
garnered publicity and votes by asking, “Where’s the money?” Perhaps it is time
he start looking for it.
Contrary to populist lore, it is not only in the
affluent upper crust. Conspicuous waste exists among public sector fat cats –
ironically, the ones the Histadrut defends most ferociously. While posturing as
the champion of the havenots, the labor federation has evolved into a monopolist
oligarchy of the 13 most powerful unions – the ports employees among
This assures them of sweet deals that most of us cannot even dream
about. Ashdod Port’s harbor pilots – seven in all – offer an enlightening
illustration. They each earn between NIS 60,000 and 77,000 a month – more than
the prime minister, IDF chief of staff or Supreme Court president.
sure, these pilots must be exceptionally skilled, as they perform a difficult
and indispensable task. Without their services, docking ships would be fraught
with hazards such as running aground, harming the maritime ecosystem and
damaging vessels, infrastructure and cargo.
The problem arises from the
fact that two pilots are assigned per shift. One works whereas the other remains
nominally on call, at home, or elsewhere, but collects full pay, premiums and
perks for doing nothing.
The matter was brought up in 2011 before an
arbitration forum, which discovered that on-call pilots are never summoned. The
arbitrators nixed this arrangement, but it continues. Indeed it was
re-arbitrated recently. Ashdod Port’s management feared the union enough to ask
that a new works agreement be approved, allowing it to fork out for stay-at-home
The arbitrators saw things differently and ruled that “a
government firm cannot pay wages – from the public coffers – for a job not
For a few weeks thereafter, the pilots worked to rule and created
huge backlogs at Ashdod Port, incurring damages of at least NIS 20 million a
week, by conservative estimates.
The latest word is that the slowdown
strike is over and that new “negotiations” will begin with the Ashdod Port
Authority. The latter has bitterly complained to the Treasury that while it
cannot pay pilots for staying at home, this practice goes unchallenged at Haifa
Port. This, alleges Ashdod, is discrimination.
The very notion that
squandering taxpayer shekels by one port justifies such practices elsewhere
ought to incense Lapid. Here is where a lot of the money he seeks is hidden – in
the deformed practices of monopolies. The ports highlight the egregious harm
Such excesses speak volumes for why it is high time to
privatize our seaports.
There is talk that the privatization of at least
Ashdod Port is being considered. But we have heard it before. Embattled as the
government is by just to balance the budget, it is doubtful that it would go out
on a limb and incur Histadrut wrath with so drastic a move.
course, is unfortunate, because without a thorough overhaul, systemic defects
will continue to undermine proper administration and corrode public trust. Only
privatizing the ports will in the long run increase their efficiency, by
introducing constructive competition between them.
The harbor pilots’
outrage is only one example of power-play travesties at our seaports, and the
seaports are hardly alone in public sector carelessness with our hard-earned
money. Other dominant unions, capable of bringing the economy and daily life in
this country to a grinding halt, extort no less from hapless
No society can allow itself to be held up this way, much less
one whose economy is already so hard-pressed.