The Histadrut Labor Federation intends to launch an open-ended general strike starting on Wednesday morning if local authority workers do not receive unpaid salaries.
Histadrut and Finance Ministry representatives were to continue meeting on Tuesday in an effort to avert the strike.
Histadrut spokesman Eyal Malma said the union had done everything it could to help Prime Minister Ehud Olmert keep the promise he made three weeks ago: "The prime minister promised that the [unpaid salaries] problem would be solved in a few days but today, on the eve of Pessah, 36 local councils and 18 religious councils are still withholding their employees' salaries. We demand that the problem be behind us by March 20, and that the prime minister keep his word."
If there is a strike, Malma said, it will be severe and comprehensive.
Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, threatened to ask the National Labor Court for an injunction stopping the strike.
"There is always a need to check who suffers the most as a result of a strike, and in this case the public and the business sector will be affected the most. It is absurd that those who pay taxes to the local councils be hurt by the failed management of these mayors and local council heads," Lynn said. He said he identified with the suffering of the 5,500 workers who had not been paid for February. "However, perhaps the solution is not a broad public sector strike. Not every injustice justifies the use of the strike weapon," Lynn said.
He called on Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson to prevent the strike by appointing oversight committees for those local councils that have failed to pay their workers. "It has been proven that local councils that have started a [financial] recovery process have continued to delay paying their workers' salaries. Instead of improving their financial management, they have developed a bad habit of depending on the state budget and hurting the taxpayers," Lynn said.
A Histadrut spokesman said England's national soccer team would be allowed to land at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday, ahead of Saturday night's Euro 2008 qualifying match against Israel at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, but that there would be no concessions to allow the estimated 3,500 England fans to arrive.