Port workers ordered to return to work

Port workers started to return to work on Wednesday, ending a week of labor disruptions, after National Labor Court President Steve Adler issued back-to-work orders.

Haifa Port 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa Port 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Port workers started to return to regular work on Wednesday, ending a week of labor disruptions, after National Labor Court President Steve Adler issued back-to-work orders. Late Tuesday night, Adler told the Finance Ministry to put a controversial clause on ports reform from the 2009 Economics Arrangements Bill on hold until the court's next hearing on September 21. "The National Labor Court made the right decision, balancing between the need to bring the port workers back to work and to prevent the government from making unilateral legislative decisions within the framework of the Economics Arrangements Bill without negotiation with the Histadrut Labor Federation, as is the norm," said Shai Teken, head of the Histadrut's legal division. Until the next hearing, Adler ordered Finance Minister Ronnie BarOn, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini to conduct intensive negotiations in an effort to solve the dispute. Mofaz has already said he is in favor of removing the port-reform clause in its current form from the Economics Arrangements Bill. Last Monday, Ashdod and Haifa port workers launched labor sanctions, including reduced workdays and slowdowns, to protest the clause, which would allow the Israel Ports Company to manage operations at the ports, rather than simply acting as Israel's port-property landlord, overseeing the government's assets. As a result of the labor disruptions, 50 ships were stranded at the ports this week waiting to unload and load. Many of them left without taking export goods, while shipping companies such as Zim Shipping Services started to divert cargos to ports in Turkey, Cypress and Jordan. "Faced with a slowdown in the global economy and a weak US currency, the industry cannot afford even one hour of strike action or labor sanctions at the ports," Manufacturers Association of Israel president Shraga Brosh said. "We very much welcome the court's decision and hope that the workers will return to work at full capacity and make up for delays caused by the past week's disruptions." According to the association, the ports workers did return to work on Wednesday but not at full capacity, and many shipping companies left the ports frustrated by the waiting time and head to other ports. The association said the labor unrest at the ports has already cost the business sector NIS 1.9 billion. "The court's decision is important, in particular in view of the potential damage continued labor sanctions could cause ahead of the High Holy Days to exporters, importers and the economy as a whole," Federation of the Israeli Chambers of Commerce chairman Uriel Lynn said.