Eini meets Railways CEO in bid to avert strike

Failure to reach deal would mean train strike starting Tuesday, potentially followed by other transport carriers.

By OREN KESSLER
March 26, 2012 22:08
2 minute read.
POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scene of a tr

israel railways 311POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scen. (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)

 
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The head of the Histadrut labor federation met late on Monday with the CEO of Israel Railways in a last-ditch effort to avert a strike of transportation employees nationwide.

Railways workers threatened Monday to launch a strike starting Tuesday, after failing to reach an agreement with management in late-night negotiations the day before. Later Monday, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini declared a labor dispute and threatened to widen the strike to include workers in other transportation-related fields.

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Eini has said Railways management must reverse all of its recent firings and suspensions as a precondition to the labor union returning to the negotiating table. Otherwise, he said, rail workers would move forward with Tuesday’s strike, and non-rail workers would be eligible to strike in two weeks.

A wider strike would include employees of Ben-Gurion Airport and other air and sea ports, the Jerusalem Light Rail, bus carriers Dan and Egged and the Zim cargo shipping carrier.

Israel Railways has been embroiled in an ongoing labor dispute that has led to train delays as well as a number of strikes. This weekend rail employees announced they would stop checking passengers’ tickets indefinitely, to protest a previous decision by the company’s management to outsource maintenance services to a foreign contractor.

Earlier this week the national rail carrier suspended the chairwoman of its employee board for three months with a warning for making threats against company executives. The authorities suspended six other workers under similar conditions and fired two others.

On Monday, employee board chairwoman Gila Edrei said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was conducting a “provocation” in order to sow division among employees.

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“The committee heads are elected representatives of the rail workers. If they suspend us, we have a right to strike,” she told Army Radio.

Railways CEO Boaz Zafrir told the station the current situation is “catastrophic.”

“Throughout the legitimate union campaign, which has lasted 18 months, we offered the employees many alternatives regarding maintenance,” he said.

“We don’t want this confrontation. We want to improve the railways, which are in catastrophic condition. Train maintenance is in terrible shape, and the workers committee is using every means possible, including violence, to prevent an improvement.”

Asked if passengers were in danger, Zafrir said, “There is no risk to passengers, but there is a risk to the continued existence of railway equipment. The delays and breakdowns of passenger trains are partly because of this situation.”

The Railways CEO said he is not considering firing Edrei, who he insisted will return to her job after her three-month suspension.

In response, Israel Railways’ management said “The Histadrut’s instruction to workers not to appear before the disciplinary committees undermines the rule of law and is in contempt of court. We regret that the Histadrut has been dragged into defending the workers’ committee representatives at any price.”

Jerusalem Post staff and Globes contributed to this report

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