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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In another harsh attack, Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Association of Economic Organizations, on Tuesday blamed Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On for failing to implement the war compensation package - meaning 35,000 workers in the rocket zone may not get January salaries, bringing 4,000 businesses to the brink of collapse.
"This is another price of the failure of the finance minister," Brosh said at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "It seems that the finance minister is using the elections to delay or to not pay compensation to employees and businesses in the South."
At the conference, the heads of the economic organizations blamed mismanagement by Bar-On for the failure to implement the compensation package.
Despite the fact that an agreement to pay damages to employees and businesses in the South was forged more than 11 days ago between all relevant parties, the Finance Ministry is dragging it's feet and has failed to present the package to the Knesset Finance Committee for approval, the employers' organizations said.
"There was an agreement with the Treasury's budget supervisor [Ram Belinkov] to bring the necessary regulations to the Knesset Finance Committee by January 31, 2009, so that employees' salaries will be able to be paid out," said the employers' organizations. "However, the regulations have not yet been completed."
In response, the Finance Ministry said that a week ago the necessary regulations were sent to the Justice Ministry for fast approval so that they can be presented to the Knesset Finance Committee as soon as possible.
The Treasury added that immediately after the offensive against Hamas in Gaza ended just over two weeks ago it formulated a compensation agreement for employees and businesses with the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Israel Manufacturers Association.
"At request of the manufacturers it was decided to consider alternative solutions for selected sectors such as banquet halls, tourism, agriculture and construction, which were sent to the relevant representatives of each sector - we are still waiting for their response," the ministry said.
The Banquet and Event Hall Association said that despite an agreement with the Israel Tax Authority on a special compensation track for event halls, which were forced to close during the war, Treasury officials asked Tax Authority officials not to rush to bring the necessary regulations to the Knesset Finance Committee for approval.
"It seems that they want to wait until after the elections and until the new Knesset is in place," said Yoram Yifrach, chairman of the Banquet and Event Hall Association. "At the moment it looks like compensation for workers and businesses will only be given in May or June 2009, and we can only hope the businesses will not suffer from an economic collapse by then."
The association said that if its members do not receive compensation they will not be able to pay salaries to 20,000 event hall workers located within 40 km. of the Gaza Strip, and that the halls are still not operating because of the continued rocket fire from Gaza.
Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini urged the Bar-On to act swiftly to resolve the compensation issue by the end of this week, so that January salaries can be paid.
In a visit to Beersheba with Rami Mendel, CEO of the Coop Israel supermarket chain, Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, said a survey showed that 15 percent of trade and services businesses in the South are on the verge of the collapse, because the government has failed to implement the compensation package. In addition, 10% of the 450,000 workers employed in trade and services in the South will probably not be paid for January on February 10, because of the dire economic situation of businesses in the area, he said.