THE DEAD SEA WORKS in Sdom, the world’s fourth largest producer and supplier of potash products, is owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Histadrut labor federation on Sunday said it turned out 2,500 protesters to demonstrate against layoffs at Israel Chemicals Ltd. in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
The protesters, bused in from the South, included workers from ICL’s Bromide Compounds plant, where 140 layoffs are in the works, and its Dead Sea Works, where an addition 135 layoffs are expected in the coming months as part of an efficiency plan. The company fired dozens more in the past year.
On Thursday, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn declared a labor dispute in the South over the matter, which opens the door to a general strike in that region within two weeks.
The company argues that it cannot fund jobs at the Bromide plant, which has been losing money in recent years, and blames the Histadrut for rejecting a generous package offering early retirement to laid-off workers over 55 and double the legally mandated compensatory benefits to those under 55.
The company accused the unions of “bolshevism” and election-oriented dramatics.
“The Histadrut and workers committee seek to impose the union’s control through violence, aggression and dangerous brutality, and do not hesitate to harm the southern residents’ routines and the best interests of most of the workers for this unacceptable and illegal goal,” the company said in a statement.
Last week, the Histadrut made good on a promise to “shut down the South,” blocking major traffic arteries in cities such as Arad, Dimona and Beersheba, and shutting down some government offices in those areas.
The prospect of another large-scale strike could spook investors, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, a business group.
“The attempt to strike an entire region over a labor dispute at one plant is outrageous,” said FICC president Uriel Lynn.
“The Histadrut’s desire to expand the labor dispute from Israel Chemicals to a strike that encompasses the entire South is an extreme move that will chase investors away from Israel and ultimately lead to job losses,” he added.
Protesters’ chants demanding justice for the soon-to-be- unemployed were unlikely to get the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He departed in the morning for Washington, DC, where he will address the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference and deliver a controversial speech to a joint session of Congress on the topic of Iran’s nuclear program.