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Customs Authority and VAT workers agreed on Sunday to freeze airport and seaport sanctions until after the holiday season, after Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini offered to help them through negotiations with the Finance Ministry over a plan to unite their department and the Israel Tax Authority.
Some 5,500 workers launched the sanctions earlier Sunday to protest the reform suggested to Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On by the Suari Committee, as the workers said it would lead to the dismissal of employees.
Headed by the employees' chairman, Shma'aya Salah, the workers closed the Customs and VAT Department offices to the public and were not answering phones. They also stopped the stamping of mail deliveries and the VAT refund service in Ben-Gurion International Airport.
In addition, customs workers at Ben-Gurion created heavy delays when they insisted on checking all luggage going through the green section, which is meant for passengers who have nothing to declare.
However, the workers accepted Eini's proposal less than 12 hours later in order to avoid disrupting the arrival of the tens of thousands of tourists expected for the holidays.
The Histadrut has claimed that implementing the recommendations of Suari Committee - headed by accountant Yitzhak Suari and appointed by Bar-On in May to examine the structure of the ITA - to move the Customs and VAT Department under the authority of the Income Tax Department, would damage the workers' salaries and professional promotions and would lead to the dismissal of some of the workers.
Ariel Ya'acobi, head of the government workers' union, said that "the workers of the Israel Tax Authority have done everything in their power to reach an agreement on their future via negotiation. Unfortunately, in light of the bureaucracy, they had no other choice but to take organizational action to fully realize their rights."
The president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Uriel Lynn, who served in the past as the governor of state revenue, warned on Sunday that the sanctions could critically damage foreign trade and offered his services as a mediator.
"The workers' demand is justified. It shouldn't be forgotten that the Customs and VAT Department plays an important role in the conduct of the private sector - not only because they collect taxes, but also due to their involvement in Israel's foreign trade. This department's function is different from the Income Tax Department," Lynn's announcement read.
Shortly after the sanctions began, the Israel Airports Authority responded by saying that "the management of Ben-Gurion International Airport is following the sanctions [closely] and is ready to ease the sanctions' results as far as its authority allows."
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