Netanyahu to decide fate of 5-day work week in fall

Steinitz, Sa'ar spar with Shalom over longer weekend; finance minister warns making Sunday a day off is "too extreme a step."

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 4, 2011 17:55
2 minute read.
Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday.

netanyahu cabinet meeting_311 reuters. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed a committee on Monday to examine whether Israel should adopt a five-day work week like the United States and the rest of the Western world.

The committee, which will be headed by National Economic Council head Prof. Eugene Kandel, will consider Vice Premier Silvan Shalom's proposal for Israeli workers to have off on Sundays, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's idea of eliminating the current half day of work on Fridays, and the status quo that is promoted by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

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The three Likud ministers, who all see themselves as future prime ministers, sparred on the issue at Monday's Likud faction meeting. At the end of the meeting, Netanyahu, who arrived late, announced the formation of Kandel's committee, which will release its findings when the Knesset returns from its summer recess in October.

"There are good arguments on all sides of the issue," Netanyahu told the MKs, declaring neutrality until the committee issues its findings.

Likud officials speculated that Netanyahu might be unlikely to support giving Sundays off, because the idea is being promoted by Shalom, who is his Likud rival. A press release from Netanyahu announcing the formation of the committee conspicuously made no reference to Shalom.

But a Likud MK close to Netanyahu said the Shalom factor was balanced out by the fact that the prime minister was aware that the idea of shortening the work week was originally promoted by Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein, with whom Netanyahu is on good terms.



"If the decision is made on a professional basis, I am sure it will pass, because it's so right for Israel's economy and society," Shalom said. "The formation of the committee is a step in the right direction."

In the Likud faction meeting, Steinitz warned that making Sunday a day off was "too extreme a step," because workers are already unproductive on Fridays, so they would be left with a four-day work week. He said the price of paying overtime to state employees like those in the health care system for working on Sundays would be astronomical.

Steinitz said it was more right for Israelis to have Fridays off, because of the Jewish identity of Israel and the Muslim sabbath. His associates said he would also consider having the work week end a couple hours earlier on Thursdays.

When Steinitz asked Shalom sarcastically why he didn't promote a shorter work week when he was finance minister, Shalom said the government was toppled before he could.

Shalom's associates said Steinitz did not understand the proposal properly. Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin, who has proposed giving Sundays off in a private member's bill, said giving off Fridays would not solve the problem of religious consumers being left out of the weekend marketplace at a time when the Sabbath-observing population is growing.

However, Elkin still welcomed Steinitz's backing for shortening the work week. He called Steinitz's proposal "revolutionary."

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