Haifa Chemicals workers protest amid fear of layoffs

Haifa Chemicals workers are being fired after Israel’s High Court ordered to close the ammonia tank in the Haifa port over security concerns.

August 29, 2017 15:11
2 minute read.
haifa ammonia tank

Haifa Chemicals' ammonia tank, Israel's largest ammonia tank, is seen in the Haifa bay area. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)

Several dozen Haifa Chemicals workers picketed on Tuesday outside the Haifa Labor Court over concerns of possible layoffs.

A special hearing was being held at the employees’ request to override the mass firings, which could result in some 1,500 people losing their jobs, said a Haifa Chemicals spokesperson.

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They are getting the pink slip after Israel’s High Court ordered to close the ammonia tank in the Haifa port over security concerns — worries that Hezbollah rockets could strike the tank and cause a mass conflagration. Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, has specifically threatened to attack the site. The threats have led to ongoing legal battles by environmentalists and security officials against the plant.

Union spokesperson Yaniv Bar-Ilan told the Jerusalem Post that workers have no issue with the court decision.

“Our main problem is that the factory’s management’s solution is to close the plant even though there is no need to do so,” Bar-Ilan said, adding that the Israel Defense Forces had approved a plan where ammonia will initially be stored in isotanks and later in anchored ships connected via a pipeline.

“We fail to see the connection between implementing the Supreme Court decision and the threat to layoff people,” Bar-Ilan said, claiming that the company might rehire workers as non-unionized contractors in an alleged plan to import ammonia in trucks from Egypt.

A Haifa Chemicals staffer disputed the charge, saying that the company had no plans to hire other people. The staffer — who requested to remain unnamed — added that the IDF Home Front Command did not think the isotank plan was ideal.

The plant has not been operating since April, due to a government moratorium on replenishing the company’s 12,000-ton ammonia storage facility, the Jerusalem Post previously reported. The company says it has been paying employees for nearly six months despite there being no work.

On Tuesday, Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, attended the court protest and addressed the protesting workers outside court. “It’s never ever happened before in Israel that workers have been fired before a holiday. Jerks.”

In response to the morning protests, a Haifa Chemicals spokesperson announced that the company would postpone the proposed lay-offs until after the Jewish holidays at the end of September. The company also blasted the mayor.

“Yona Yahav along the way obstructs solutions that may be used in blatant disregard of government decisions, expert opinions and facts,” said spokesperson Itay Raved.

Around 400 Haifa Chemicals employees work in Haifa, with another 400 based at the southern plant in Dimona. Other workers affected by the lay-offs are contractors. The fired workers are expected to receive unemployment benefits.

Ministers in the government such as Ayelet Shaked, Eli Cohen, Yaron Mazuz and Ze'ev Elkin are working on the isotanks plan, Channel 10 reported. The ammonia could be connected via pipeline to tankers and to the Haifa Chemicals factory.

The plan for offshore tankers could prevent the mass lay-offs.

The High Court ordered the ammonia tank to be emptied by September 18. Ammonia is commonly used to purify water supplies and to manufacture plastics, textiles and household cleaners.

Haifa Chemicals is owned by the American holding company Trance Resource Inc. Its head is Jules Trump, unrelated to the US president.

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