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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Major turmoil at the country's airports was averted Thursday as the general strike in the public sector was called off after a preliminary agreement between the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Finance Ministry, providing for a 5-percent increase in public sector wages, was reached overnight Wednesday.
"We managed to find a balance between the needs of the workers, the limits of the budget and the abilities of the economy, which will allow it to continue to grow," said Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On.
Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini and Bar-On, after hours of negotiations during the night, agreed on a 5% increase in public sector workers' wages, which will be implemented in three stages by 2009 and cost the Finance Ministry some NIS 4 billion.
According to the agreement, public sector workers will get a 1.5% rise in January next year, followed by a further 1.5% in December 2008 and 2% in 2009. In initial talks, the Histadrut had demanded a 10.4% wage increase including retroactive salary payments.
Following the agreement, Eini early on Thursday put an end to the general strike, which commenced on Wednesday morning, and at the last moment averted a work action at Ben-Gurion International Airport, which was to have started at 6 a.m. Thursday and could have left tens of thousands of Israelis and tourists stranded.
Additionally, it has been agreed that each workers' union will be free to decide how to use the wage increase and whether to give all employees an equal raise, or give those earning a smaller salary a bigger increase. Eini and Bar-On also agreed to grant the increase to employees who earn less than the minimum wage.
The general strike has been suspended for a week until the signing of the final agreement.
As a result, all government and municipal offices operated as usual on Thursday, while railway traffic was resumed gradually throughout the morning hours. Ben-Gurion Airport also operated uninterrupted.
Separately, Chairman of the National Union of Local Authorities Adi Eldar, demanded that the government carry the cost of the wage increase for local authority employees of NIS 200 million in 2008 and NIS 475m. from 2010.
The last general strike in March resulted from the non-payment of salaries to employees of the local authorities.