Customs strike ends without an agreement

Customs employees declared a strike over plans to subordinate it and the value added tax branch under the control of the Income Tax Authority.

Haifa port 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa port 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A four-day strike by Customs Authority officials over a proposed merger with the Income Tax Authority ended without agreement, Histadrut spokesman Eyal Malman told The Jerusalem Post Thursday night. "A joint pledge was made by [Histadrut chairman] Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to conduct intensive negotiations over the issue," he said. Last Wednesday, Customs employees declared a strike over plans to subordinate it and the VAT (value added tax) branch under the control of the Income Tax Authority. The strikers, who said the merger would harm their interests, based their objections on the conclusions of the 2007 Suari Committee, appointed by the Finance Ministry, which called for a separation of customs from the tax department. The Finance Ministry announced its intentions to go ahead with the merger despite the Suari Committee's recommendation to build up customs as an independent body with its own management. Earlier Sunday, the Manufacturers Association of Israel and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce warned of "major and irreversible damage" if the strike continued, and asked the Jerusalem Labor Court to intervene to end the strike, in a joint petition. "The demand by the Customs and VAT employees not to be subordinate to Income Tax, as the Suari Committee recommended, is just, but the strike they have launched is the wrong way to proceed," Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, said. A survey carried out by the federation found that the strike had already caused "significant delays in imports and exports, as well as the release of stock in ports and border crossings." The strike caused $50 million in damages so far, the survey said. "They should wage their just campaign through a public relations campaign and fair negotiations, through which they would receive the support of the elements who are directly involved with Israel's foreign trade," Lynn said. In his statement, Lynn said had the strike continued further with goods being retained in ports, some $260m. would be lost daily. The strike would only serve to negatively affect public opinion and decrease sympathy for the workers' cause, he added. In 2004, the Customs, Income Tax, VAT and Real Estate Taxation branches launched a collective strike, in protest over a decision to unite the tax departments. Some some workers were slated to be fired according to the unification plan. The Finance Ministry said it would not fire any employees in the merger and the strike lasted one day.