Gov’t crafting plans to subvert port reform strikes

"This is a courageous step of the utmost importance," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

By LAHAV KARKOV
May 19, 2013 19:52
3 minute read.
The Jaffa Port

Jaffa Port 370 (R). (photo credit: Eliana Aponte/Reuters)

 
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The government is drawing up plans in the event that attempts to reform Israel’s ports lead to a strike, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Sunday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged his commitment to the reforms.

The main portion of the plan is to build a private port to compete with the existing ones, in hopes that the competition will provide businesses with cheaper, more efficient alternatives.

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“We are prepared to do this in cooperation with the employees. In the event that does not work, we’ll do it unilaterally,” Katz said in an interview with Army Radio on Sunday morning.

“The program will reduce reckless strikes of the ports and the economy.”

Should the ports respond with strikes, Katz said, the government was preparing several alternatives to fill their roles.

“We will adopt all possible measures to save the ports, including the possibility of foreign companies operating them. At the same time, we will advance fast-track legislation on a mandatory arbitration and essential services law, which will prevent strikes in essential services to the economy, including the ports themselves.”

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the plan would lower the cost of living.



“This plan has very major consequences regarding the cost of living in Israel because 90% of our imports and exports, and a considerable portion of our GDP, passes through the ports in one way or another,” he said, adding that “efficiency or the lack thereof at the ports is something that every citizen feels in his pocket.”

In laying out concrete plans to fight port strikes, Katz undermined media reports saying that the government was planning to call in the IDF to act as “scabs,” should the port workers attempt to shutter shipping.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, a former Histadrut labor federation chairman, denounced the reports in Sunday morning’s cabinet meeting.

“Whoever is responsible for [the idea] does not understand democracy and does not understand the abilities and job of the IDF,” Peretz said. “All of these statements are inflammatory and unnecessary.”

At the same time, Peretz added that there needs to be broad reforms in the ports.

Labor faction chairman Isaac Herzog compared Netanyahu to dictators who send mercenaries to quell rebellions.

“Bringing the army in to the ports shows a total loss of control by the prime minister and the government,” Herzog said.

“Facing Netanyahu’s war demagoguery and the attempt to light the ports and their workers on fire, the Histadrut stands sane and responsible and willing to cooperate with reasonable economic policies.”

According to Herzog, reforms will not be possible without cooperation from the Histadrut.

“Incitement against the workers will bring anger in the streets, labor conflicts, strikes and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he added.

On Friday, Antitrust Authority commissioner David Gilo announced plans to classify the ports as an oligopoly, eliciting praise from Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett. The classification would bar existing port operators from opening new ports or platforms at existing ports, thus opening the market for new competition.

“This is a courageous step of the utmost importance,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Bennett said, “The port has been on an ‘Italian strike’ for one out of every six days in recent years,” referring to a barebones slowdown in which workers perform only the bare minimum of necessary work.

“Someone has to pay the price for this inefficiency, and it’s been the Israeli public,” he added.

Alon Hassan, head of the port in Ashdod, responded to Bennett with a Facebook post of his own on Sunday, accusing him of “pandering to the capitalists, your millionaire friends and giving them a chance to earn more.”

The port workers, he warned, harbored “the most solidarity there is,” and were always prepared to go on strike for the cause of the working man.

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