(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Histadrut Labor Federation on Thursday threatened to launch a general strike in the public sector if the government approves the Economics Arrangements Bill.
"The Histadrut Labor Federation will declare a labor dispute in the public sector within a short period of time if the Economic Arrangements Bill in its current form is passed at the next cabinet meeting on Sunday," Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said Thursday. "If passed, the Economic Arrangements Law will affect thousands of workers. I hope the cabinet will not be party to a law that will result in the firing of thousands and will lead to instability in the public sector when Israel is already on the brink of an economic crisis."
Declaring a general labor dispute on behalf of the organized workforce as a prelude to a strike, which the Histadrut is legally entitled to launch in two weeks, could bring the economy to a complete standstill.
"The Histadrut will not stop at just launching industrial action, but will use its political influence," Eini said. "I intend to warn the ministers about the danger inherent in passing this bill, and I hope that the ministers will not vote in favor of a law that infringes workers' rights."
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said he was disappointed to hear about Eini's declaration, saying it would unnecessarily torpedo economic stability and workers' rights.
"I call upon the Histadrut chief to separate economics from the political game and act in a responsible manner for the good of the economy," he said.
The Histadrut is opposed to a number of clauses in the Economics Arrangements Bill, which was presented as part of the 2009 state budget last week. The bill's structural reforms and criteria for the retirement of employees will lead to thousands of layoffs of government workers and infringes workers' rights secured by collective agreements, according to the Histadrut.
Eini vehemently objects to measures for cutting manpower in government offices; the bill grants financial incentives for ministries to retire or make employees redundant.
According to Finance Ministry budget director Ram Belnikov, the clause was needed to encourage efficiency in government ministries.
"We're not talking about layoffs, but voluntary retirement," he told Army Radio. "That's because there are islands of inefficiency at ministries and we want to root them out."
The Finance Ministry also wants to bring in new operators at the ports by applying the landlord model. Eini believes that violates the collective agreements signed with the Histadrut on ports reform. He accused the ministry of failing to coordinate the proposed measures with the Histadrut.
"The economic plan presented to the government for approval needs to take into account economic challenges in light of a possible slowdown in the growth rate of the economy," Bar-On said. "The plan is not aimed at violating workers' rights or labor relations in the economy. All items [in the bill] related to labor relations will be discussed in cooperation with workers' organizations."
Eini said Bar-On was leading the economy from one mistake to another.
"It is clear that Bar-On hasn't really learned the lesson from past mistakes," he said. "The finance minister is repeating the same mistakes when he's already admitted he was wrong in the past.
"Just over a month ago, the finance minister withdrew his unilateral legislative proposal to levy taxes on advanced-training funds when he stood before the camera and said, 'I made a mistake.'"
In June, the Histadrut and economic organizations had threatened a general strike in the public sector in protest over controversial tax plans. Giving in to industrial pressure, Bar-On agreed to cancel the plan to tax savings in advanced-training funds, after admitting he had made a mistake regarding the timing and the assessment of the political situation.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, called for postponement of approval of the 2009 budget until after the Kadima primaries.
"The finance minister is living in a world of his own," he said. "Israel's economy is heading for a severe and dangerous slowdown in 2009, and the Treasury has presented a budget running on auto-pilot that continues to wait for a catastrophe."
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