(photo credit: Creative Commons)
Last week’s mega-protest attracted citizens from all walks of life – after all,
there is so much to complain about. From high housing costs, rent, fuel, day
care, education, taxes and the general cost of living to demanding the return of
Gilad Schalit, well, we could be protesting forever.
speaking, for all the demands the protesters have voiced, if tax cuts are made
somewhere or if funding is provided elsewhere then, ultimately, the money must
come from another source.
That source, I believe, at least in part, can
be the ports. Ports Authority workers, under the Histadrut labor federation, are
among the highest wage-earners in Israel, with many members making NIS 20,000 a
month and others upward of NIS 60,000. The time is long overdue for the ports to
become privatized and open to competition, which would lower port fees,
significantly reduce workers’ strike power and, to some extent, relieve citizens
of another financial burden.
A report published by the Institute for
Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in July 1999, titled “Reforming
Israel’s Sea Ports,” found that the workers exploited their ability to shut down
the ports in order to achieve salaries that are among the highest in the
country. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average dock
worker’s salary was three times the national average. The report, making the
obvious conclusion, recommended the transfer of port management and operation to
the private sector.
In 2004, after another port strike, Haaretz reported
that the president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Uriel
Lynn, said, “Here is proof again of the urgent need for reforms that will weaken
the influence of the strong committees and the monopolistic status of the sea
The Ports Reform Agreement of 2005 included the stipulations that
Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat Ports would become separate companies, competing with
each other in rates and services; the Ports Authority would cease to exist and
would be replaced by an assets company; NIS 4 billion in pension funds held by
the Ports Authority would be distributed among the port companies; 2,200 workers
would each receive a NIS 100,000 payment; workers would receive a 20-percent
wage increase; and, in return, the workers would guarantee five years of
Yet Ashdod Port operations workers broke this agreement
in 2006 and initiated disruptions and sanctions, threatening to continue the
strike until their outrageous financial demands were met. The disruptions and
sanctions completely contradicted the Ashdod Port workers committee’s
commitments to preserve industrial quiet under the agreement, costing the state
millions of shekels in lost revenue.
According to Business Monitor
International, the privatization initiative was not popular with dock workers,
and in August 2008, they led a nine-day strike over concerns that the pending
Economic Arrangement Bill would allow the use of private contractors at Israeli
In April, the Finance Ministry announced the privatization of the
Eilat Port after the Government Companies Authority issued a public announcement
for the sale of the state’s holdings in the Eilat Port Company.
this is certainly a step in the right direction, it is not enough, as the port
of Eilat handles less than 7% of the country’s maritime trade. This means
workers at ports on the Mediterranean coast still control most of Israel’s
The current situation is but a zero-sum game, with the
port workers always on the side that gains. If they are working, they are
milking the state for exorbitant salaries – money that comes from the public’s
pockets – and if they are striking, they cost the state millions in lost revenue
and end up receiving higher wages as a reward. Either way, they benefit
only themselves. Over the years, their numerous strikes have caused
unspeakable harm to this country.
The public wants, and needs, to see the
privatization of the ports, and a loosening of the chokehold that port workers
maintain on the private sector.
But for this to happen, our leaders need
political will. If they are searching for inspiration, they need look no further
than former US president Ronald Reagan, who fought striking air traffic
controllers in 1981, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who
fought striking coal miners in 1985. For each, it was a defining moment for
their economic policy, and in both cases, they headed off a debilitating strike
and created an important precedent for their respective countries for years to
Our leaders must demonstrate similar resolve and overpower the port
workers who seek to empty the public’s pockets and fill their own out of greed
and self-interest. The government can find a terrific source of funding at
the ports, which will allow it, at least in part, to ease the heavy tax burden
many average Israelis now carry, and avoid further economically debilitating
strikes by greedy public-sector workers.