Histadrut protest [File].
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Histadrut labor federation approved a motion on Wednesday to hold a general strike next week that would shut schools and government offices nationwide, in demand of better public sector wages.
Unless the union and Finance Ministry hammer out a deal to avert the strike, as often happens in such situations, the Histadrut will instruct hundreds of thousands of civil servants and teachers to stay home, shutting down public services and limiting them in areas such as social work and health.
By setting the date a week hence, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn left the door open for a negotiated agreement with the Treasury. Nissenkorn had declared a labor dispute on the issue on November 25, meaning he could have legally declared a strike starting last Wednesday.
“For three years already, public sector workers are operating without a framework, with a significant erosion in their wages,” Nissenkorn said Tuesday night, ahead of Wednesday’s Histadrut vote. “The strike is a last resort, but the Treasury officials left us no choice,” he said.
Histadrut officials did not appear to mention a specific date on which the strike would begin or say how long it would last.
Just as the union was meeting, the Treasury’s wage department released its annual report, which somewhat undermined Nissenkorn’s case. According to the report, public sector wages increased at a nominal rate of 7% from January 2013 through this past August, about 50% faster than private sector salaries, which only rose 4.77% Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon instructed a team of negotiators to reach a deal with the Histadrut on a wage plan through the end of 2017, but said the focus should be on decreasing wide wage disparities between various bodies. Changes in wages, he said, had to adjust to the new economic realities of moderate growth and low inflation.
Kahlon said every day of striking would cost Israel’s economy between NIS 1 billion and NIS 3 billion in damages.
The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, a business group, said the strike missed the point. The number of people working in the public sector, according to FICC President Uriel Lynn, had grown 75% from 2004 to 2014.
Discussions over wages, Lynn said, should include a new formula for figuring out public sector wage changes over time, a sentiment echoed by the Finance Ministry.