Israel's supply of safe drinkable water may be in jeopardy in as soon as 10 days if a dispute between workers and senior management at Makhteshim Agan is not settled.
The chemical company's workers' union on Wednesday stopped chlorine deliveries to Mekorot, Israel's national water company, until Makhteshim chairman Avraham Bigger guarantees he will not pull 200 mid-level managers out of the company's chlorine factory in Beersheba and move them to Airport City in Lod, as he has been threatening to do.
Makhteshim Agan is the sole provider of the chlorine needed to treat the water that Mekorot pumps out of the Kinneret, and according to the water company's spokeswoman, it is not sure how long their supply on hand will last.
"We have no issues with Mekorot, however we do need to publicize our message that the Negev is within the borders of Israel - just like Tel Aviv - and Bigger can't just decide to uproot families and employees who have made a commitment to settle in the Negev," said Meir Babayas, chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation's Negev division.
According to Babayas, stopping the chlorine deliveries is just the first sanction the union plans on imposing on Makhteshim unless Bigger agrees to keep the workers in Beersheba.
"This is not a strike - everyone will be at work as normal and workers will continue to do their jobs. However, if no progress is made, we will move to the next step, in which we will strongly urge southern farmers to boycott products made by Makhteshim Agan," Babayas said.
The spokesman for the Histadrut's Negev division, Lior Niski, said the labor federation was organizing Makhteshim's workers and providing them with legal advice.
While Bigger was not available for comment, he plans to move the workers because he believes Beersheba is too far away from the center of the country, according to Niski, who has portrayed Bigger as uncaring about his employees, saying the chairman has never visited the Beersheba factory.
"As long as he is making money, he doesn't care who he is supplying chemicals to," Niski added.
Residents of the Negev will not be affected by the potential lack of drinking water, as the sanctions have only been imposed upon the Center and the North. Niski estimated Mekorot had enough chlorine to last at least a week.
"We need to raise awareness that we are here, and that we are an important part of this country," said Babayas, "and hopefully these sanctions will help get our message out."
Ehud Marom, CEO of Makhteshim Chemical Works, has been negotiating with union leaders at Makhteshim and the Histadrut.