A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of the northern city of Haifa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn on Tuesday called on the government to invest in upgrading infrastructure at the existing Ashdod and Haifa ports, and threatened a strike if a deal isn’t struck.
“I very much hope that they will understand that the correct path is a path of cooperation.
I don’t want a strike, and for that we must sit day and night to solve the problem,” he said, referring to Finance and Transport ministries. “For two years we’ve been shouting that we need to develop the old ports and that’s not happening, and the clock is ticking.”
The port unions have been in an uproar since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced plans to build new, privately run competing ports adjacent to the existing state-owned ones. The idea behind the reform was to force the bloated state-owned ports into competition instead of confronting the strong unions head-on with issues such as disproportionately high pay.
As the process of building the new ports has gotten underway and foreign companies were selected to operate them, however, the focus has shifted to upgrading the existing ports so they can properly compete.
The current ports, for example, have to be dredged, or else they will not be able to accommodate the larger ships that the new private ones will be able to. The new port, Nissenkorn added, will have trains with 150- car capacity, while the current ones have just 60 cars.
“This is not competition.
This is transferring the state’s capital and infrastructure to a tycoon, and that we cannot allow to happen,” he said. Without investing in the old ports to keep them up to snuff, Nissenkorn added, “competition will not develop between the two kinds of ports, which will be to the detriment of the economy, the workers and the business sector alike.”
By his side at Tuesday’s Tel Aviv press conference was Manufacturers Association of Israel president Shraga Brosh, who lambasted the government for freezing him out of negotiations.
“It’s not clear to me why the CEO of the Ashdod port doesn’t have time to meet with the manufacturers’ representatives, why aren’t they answering the phone or including the manufacturers? We elected a government to operate, and not to make dictatorial decisions and say ‘that’s what I want,’” he said.
Brosh and Nissenkorn have been on opposite sides of the negotiating table in the past, but on several occasions have worked together to co-opt the government.
In two separate negotiations on the minimum wage, for example, Brosh and Nissenkorn reached a deal that the government proceeded to adopt.
In response, the Finance Ministry said it fully intends to deepen the ports and upgrade the infrastructure in line with the needs of the economy and competition, but would not provide further details.
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