Teva workers threatened with dismissal barricaded themselves in factories across the country, burning tires and trash cans as hundreds of thousands of Israelis went on a half-day strike on Sunday.
The strike comes only days after the largest generic drug company in the world announced it is laying off a quarter of its Israeli workers – about 1,750 people.
Offices and plants across the country were shuttered until noon, including government ministries, local authorities, the judiciary and the State Prosecutor’s Office, the stock exchange, banks, utilities, health clinics, ports in Ashdod and Haifa, and other sites.
Morning flights scheduled at Ben-Gurion Airport were either delayed or canceled.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that he and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will likely meet on Tuesday afternoon with Teva CEO Kare Schultz.
Netanyahu spoke by phone with Schultz last week and told the cabinet that the government’s primary objective was to minimize the damage to workers from Teva’s restructuring.
The prime minister said the second objective was to prevent the closing of Teva plants in Jerusalem and the third priority was to ensure that Teva remains in Israel.
“Teva has thousands of workers, was established in Israel, and we want it to remain an Israeli company,” Netanyahu said, adding that the government would use the various tools at its disposal to try and achieve those objectives.
The Histadrut labor federation called on workers across the country to power down machinery and walk out in protest of proposed cuts at Teva, as leverage for negotiations and to pressure the company.
In a Jerusalem Teva factory, workers barricaded themselves in the plant and said they wouldn’t allow senior executives to leave until a solution was found.
Mayor Nir Barkat then arrived at the plant and asked workers to clear the road.
Protests were also held at Teva facilities across the country, including Ashdod, Kfar Saba, Netanya and at its Petah Tikva headquarters.
Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Economy Minister Eli Cohen plan to meet on Monday with heads of the Teva workers committee.
The company has received an estimated NIS 22 billion in tax breaks and subsidies over the past decade, and it seems unlikely that the government asked for any commitment in return.
“Teva has succeeded, among other things, because of the benefits and support of the State of Israel, and the employees of Teva Israel are the ones to pay the price,” Cohen said in a statement.
Considered to be Israel’s flagship firm, Teva was the largest company according to market value until last year. Several corporate acquisitions, coupled with increased generic-drug competition in the US, left the company with a hefty debt burden and severely reduced cash flow.
That called into question whether, after 2018, Teva can pay off its enormous $35b. debt load, leading to the current predicament.