Business groups slam Histadrut call for shorter workweek

Manufacturers Association: It would cost economy NIS 35 billion.

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May 25, 2016 00:45
2 minute read.
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Histadrut protest [File]. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The Histadrut Labor Federation on Tuesday aroused the anger of business groups by calling to shorten the workweek, a proposal that piggy- backs on a bill to introduce long weekends several times a year.

“The time has come to reduce the workweek in Israel to 40 hours a week, and to set six long weekends, for the benefit of the economy and the working population as a whole,” Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn wrote in a letter to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

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Israelis work an average of 43 hours a week, a relatively high number by OECD standards, which some analysts have linked to Israel’s relatively low productivity. Nissenkorn’s proposal would cap the number of hours, as well as adding several vacation days a year.

The Histadrut’s proposal follows attempts to introduce a series of three-day weekends several times a year, in a bill sponsored by MK Eli Cohen of Kahlon’s Kulanu party.

That bill received lukewarm support from industry, in part because he offered to offset lost hours elsewhere in the work week.

Nissenkorn’s suggestion, however, caused an outcry.

Manufacturers Association of Israel President Shraga Brosh slammed the proposal on Tuesday, saying it would punch a NIS 35 billion hole in the economy.

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Unlike Cohen, who argues that trimming hours would force up productivity by the same mechanism through which people squeeze in extra work before or after vacations, Brosh argued that Israeli lack of productivity required more hours to get the same amount done.

“We are convinced that the Israeli economy cannot absorb extra costs and a blow so significant in its economic competitiveness, and the proposal should be rejected completely,” he said at an economic panel at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Similarly, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which said it would support the long weekends bill under certain circumstances, said Tuesday that they were “vehemently” opposed to Nissenkorn’s plan.

While long weekends were acceptable alongside policy allowing for flexible working hours and reforms that aligned school holidays with work holidays, federation president Uriel Lynn said, Nissenkorn’s proposal is untenable.

“It seems that Nissenkorn is unfamiliar with the economic data, which if he knew he would understand that there couldn’t be a worse time to make such a proposal,” Lynn said.

Since 2000, he added, Israel had taken on 190 new labor regulations, which puts an undue burden on employers.

The Histadrut, however, has been successful in pushing forward its labor agenda despite opposition from business groups, most recently winning battles to raise the minimum wage and upgrade working conditions for some public sector workers.

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