binyamin ben eliezer 88 .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Wednesday threatened to privatize the Israel Electric Corporation within 10 days if the Knesset does not pass into law the reforms to break the electricity monopoly.
"If the reforms are not passed into legislation, IEC's license will expire on March 3 and the privatization will begin," Ben-Eliezer told the Knesset Economics Committee in a special session on the reforms Wednesday morning. "This is not about privatizing the company but ensuring its reorganization after 80 years without change."
He added that the only alternative to the government was to assume the company's NIS 45 billion debt.
His comments came after the National Labor Court ordered IEC workers back to work after they went on strike Tuesday afternoon in protest of the reforms.
The minister rejected their appeal, backed by MKs Yoram Marciano and Avishay Braverman, to delay the Knesset vote by a week in order to further negotiate with the workers union.
"One week won't achieve anything," he said.
Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson lent his support to Eliezer, saying the government was adamant the reforms would be implemented.
The cabinet gave its approval to the program on Sunday and the committee met to prepare the second and third readings of the bill to be presented for Knesset approval next week.
Economics Committee chairman Moshe Kahlon decided, however, to delay the vote on the bill for further discussions on the plan scheduled for Sunday.
Under the reforms, the IEC will be transformed into a holding company with four competing subsidiaries handling production by January 2009. An additional four to five units will handle geographic distribution by 2010 and the government wants to sell stakes of as much as 49 percent in the subsidiaries by the middle of 2013.
Wednesday morning's court hearing, following the strike, brought a two-week quiet period during which the court forbade the workers from turning off the country's electricity supply until March 11, an IEC spokesperson said. It did not go as far as forbidding them to strike again, he added.
"We went on strike [Tuesday] but have not stopped the supply of electricity supply since 1976," IEC Workers union representative Motti Levy responded at the Economics Committee meeting. "We are not a gang of thugs. We are responsible."
Bloomberg contributed to this report.