Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a member of the Negev Ceramics workers’ committee as he enters a meeting with the representatives at the Knesset yesterday..
(photo credit: COURTESY TOMER MARCIANO)
Amid back-and-forth negotiations over the fate of Negev Ceramics workers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several government ministers met with union representatives on Monday at the Knesset in order to forestall planned lay-offs.
Negev Ceramics employs some 140 employees at its factory in Yeroham, a southern Israeli town, and the company gave pink slips to all of manufacturing workers a week and a half ago. A labor court judge had ordered the company to postpone all layoffs until the end of a month, a temporary reprieve meant to allow for intensive negotiations between company management, the workers committee and the Histradut labor federation.
On Monday, Netanyahu greeted three representatives from the factory’s worker committee in order to help the union and management come to an accord. It is undetermined how much progress the two sides have made, as they are still discussing how many workers will lose their jobs and how hefty the compensation packages will be.
“We’re not political, we just want to work. In the meeting with the prime minister, he said he’ll check and he’ll get back to us, that they’ll try to take care of the problem,” said Avi Ben-Abo, a representative of the workers committee who was born-and-bred in Yeroham and has worked at the factory for 29 years. “We spoke in a very personal matter, and we told [Netanyahu] to help us, to help the periphery,” said Ben-Abo, adding “because this is like a war of terror against the industry.”
While the meeting with Netanyahu lasted a few minutes, union representatives held longer one-on-one panels with Economy Minister Eli Cohen (Likud) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
Until negotiations are completed, employees will continue to collect paychecks, though the factory remains shuttered.
Negev Ceramics says it is losing NIS 2 million ($700,000) monthly by operating the plant, its only factory in Israel, although union representatives dismiss how the company is interpreting the financial data. Although imported tiles cost a third less than tiles produced in Israel, the company is still making a profit on both, claims Tomer Marciano, a member of the Negev Ceramics worker committee who is tasked with negotiating with management.
“The plant is not losing any money,” said Marciano, acknowledging that imported porcelain titles cost NIS 26 per meter while company porcelain tiles cost NIS 40. According to Marciano, the company can sell both for around NIS 100 and still make a profit, albeit a slightly smaller one from the Israeli factory.
Another problem driving up the price of Israeli exports is the comparatively weak dollar — which is hovering around 3.5 shekels in the market. If the exchange rate was one dollar to four shekels, then management would be more appeased with the operating profit.
A spokesperson for Negev Ceramics was not available for comment prior to press time, as he was still sitting in day-long negotiations between the two sides.
The company produces and imports porcelain tiles for sale, and just 15% of its sales come from Israeli-made tiles in Yeroham.
Negev Ceramics employs some 700 people at 10 stores, offices and distribution sites across the country. The company was bought by private-equity fund Viola Credit for NIS 320m. in April after losing some NIS 500m in recent years.