Histadrut calls general strike to begin next week

Labor federation says Treasury is refusing to meet its demands over public-sector contract workers; strike to affect airports, ports, gov't offices.

By NADAV SHEMER, JPOST.COM STAFF
November 3, 2011 19:33
2 minute read.
HISTADRUT CHAIRMAN Ofer Eini (middle) and representatives of the catering industry sign a collective

hisdadrut 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The Histadrut labor federation has threatened a general strike starting Monday morning at 6, after it and the Finance Ministry failed to reach an agreement over the employment status of public-sector contract workers.

The strike would most likely affect airports, seaports, local authorities, government offices and other areas of the public sector, the Histadrut said on Thursday, adding that it intends to extend the strike to private businesses. It said full details would be released on Sunday.

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“A strike is the last option, but we had no choice after the Treasury announced yesterday [Wednesday] that it had no intention of moving contract workers into direct employment, and thereby reducing this shameful phenomenon that has taken root in Israeli society,” Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said in a statement.

“To my regret, the Finance Ministry is blocking all possibility of arriving at an agreement. The absorption of these workers into the public sector is repulsive for them. It does not match their governing ideology. In their eyes, absorbing contract workers is like bringing a pig into a synagogue. It is akin to conversion,” Eini said.

The Finance Ministry did not issue a response by press time. But Treasury sources said they hoped that the Histadrut’s decision to start the strike on Monday would give the sides an opportunity from Friday to Sunday to avert it by reaching a deal.

Eini said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had shown interest in breaking the impasse, and urged him “to make every effort in order to reach an agreement and thereby prevent this strike.”

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The announcement follows almost a month of threats by the Histadrut. It declared a general labor dispute on October 11, two days after the cabinet approved the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change. The Histadrut says the Trajtenberg report legitimized the continued employment by the public sector via contracts (with very bad conditions and benefits) of around 100,000 cleaners and maintenance workers.

The National Union of Students threw its support behind the Histadrut, announcing that the two bodies were working in unison and that strikes would also be declared at universities and colleges.

“Students have been campaigning for years for the rights of contract workers,” student union chairman Itzik Shmuli said. “We welcome the fact that Ofer Eini and the Histadrut are fighting to end this unseemly phenomenon.”

Earlier this week, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce – representing the business sector – urged the prime minister to intervene in favor of the cleaning companies that employ the contract workers.

“Just because Ofer Eini is threatening a strike does not mean you must dance to the tune of his flute,” chambers of commerce president Uriel Lynn wrote to Netanyahu after meeting with cleaning company representatives on Monday.

“I must emphasize that this will cause disproportionate harm to the Israeli business sector. We unequivocally oppose any agreement that means forced employment in the business sector, and which inevitably will lead us back to the 1980s and the failures [when inflation reached an annual rate close to 450 percent] that occurred then in the business and public sectors,” he added.

The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce has said throughout the past month that it would petition the High Court of Justice to prevent a strike. It argues that Eini is reneging on previous collective agreements on contract work to which he is a signatory.

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