(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee refused on Tuesday to renew the Israel Electric Corporation’s licenses, set to expire on December 31, after the company’s union chief announced a strike at a hearing on the issue.
Without the license, the company will not have a legal mandate to provide electricity as of January 1, 2015.
Committee chairman Avishay Braverman (Labor), who announced last week that he was not seeking reelection, said he was making good on a previous promise not to extend the licenses until a company reform went through, as per a 1996 law.
Meanwhile, on the union’s orders, IEC employees packed up and went home, except for essential workers, who moved to a Shabbat schedule.
The Israel Electric Corporation has a state-sanctioned monopoly on electricity provision and is widely considered one of the most bloated, inefficient and overpaid entities in the country. According to a report on government salaries released Tuesday, the average worker at the electric corporation makes NIS 24,065 a month, more than two-and-a-half times the national average salary, though not atypical for employees of state-owned companies. With the exception of the defense ministry and its auxiliary units, average state-owned-company salaries are the highest the government pays out – higher than, among others, those of the police and the IDF.
At the hearing, IEC union chairman Miko Tzarfati said the company’s very existence was on the brink of collapse, and warned that if the company shut down, Israel would lose its electricity supply.
“It doesn’t matter who will be the prime minister in Israel or which party will get the most mandates, because after the electric company collapses, the entire public will pay the price,” he said.
IEC chairman Yiftah Ron- Tal and state-owned-company manager Uri Yogev did not show up for the hearing, eliciting criticism from Braverman.
“Maybe they don’t think the problem is serious,” said Braverman, who also cast blame on former finance minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) for scuttling agreed-upon IEC reforms.
The Histadrut labor federation backed the union, saying that the company could not be a revolving door for hiring and firing temporary workers, and that the practice was “exploitative.”
The Finance Ministry said the strike violated a National Labor Court order against unilateral action. The court has been examining the IEC employment issue.
For his part, Tzarfati blamed the government’s political instability for failure to reach a lasting arrangement with the electric company.
“Since 2003, [for] more than a decade, I conducted negotiations with four ministers and three general managers. For 12 years, they’ve been leading us on and in the meantime unilaterally dividing up the electricity market to tycoons on one hand and the Palestinian Authority on the other hand,” he said.
After an agreement was reached, he argued, the state reneged.