The Finance Ministry and El Al reached an agreement Monday evening putting an end to an Israeli air carriers strike in its second day.
In staff-level meetings between the two sides, the Finance Ministry agreed to raise its participation in airline security costs from 70% to 97.5%. El Al, which said that security cost it NIS 130m. each year, would be left paying about NIS12.5 million, according to Treasury figures.
“At the end of the crisis, the government composed itself and understood that the requests of the workers to allow the companies to survive and receive fair conditions in competition is in the national interest,” Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said. “It's a shame it had to come to a strike and protests and striking fear into thousands of families in order to reach this conclusion, which we could have reached in practical negotiations.
The ministry announced the deal an hour and a half before the National Labor Court was set to rule on whether the strike, and the Histadrut’s order to shut down the airport starting on Tuesday at 5:00 a.m., could move forward. The Manufacturer’s Association of Israel had issued an injunction to end the strike at the National Labor Court late Sunday night.
“The court must issue an order to employees not to disrupt work and to stop this strike immediately. The strike severely disrupts industry, which is reliant on export and import,” the association said.
In its own filing on the matter, the Histadrut excoriated the government’s Sunday decision to pass the Open Skies Agreement, saying the cabinet had not properly discussed the deal, which it claimed would lead to the collapse of Israel’s airline industry.
“The Histadrut regrets the discomfort caused to the plaintiff, as well as, primarily, the Israeli public and the foreign tourists. However, this is a war of existence, a war of necessity," the union said.
The Histadrut’s exceptions committee approved two El Al flights Monday for humanitarian reasons Monday, one from Paris carrying the bodies of a rabbi and the president of the deaf association for burial in Israel, and another from Berlin carrying employees of a pharmaceutical company so they could return to work manufacturing medication. On Sunday, it also approved three flights for similar extenuating circumstances.
Monday’s security agreement followed a day of political volleys, as the Knesset reconvened for its summer session and politicians came out in full force over the aviation issue.
Lapid slammed the strike, saying it was “unnecessary from the beginning and it is still necessary now.”
“Open Skies are a done deal. This is a good and appropriate agreement for the citizens of Israel, Israel’s economy and Israel’s tourism,” he said, adding, “the agreement will liberalize the aviation market in Israel, introducing more competition over the course of five years.”
Opposition Leader Shelly Yacimovich backed up the airlines, saying it was wrong to set Israeli companies against international competition “with their hands cuffed.” El Al’s Eliezer Shakedi said the company respected the Israeli government and its decision to pass the agreement, but demanded that it deal with issues that “will allow fair and equal competition, chief among them the state’s full participation in the security expenditures of Israeli airlines.”
Lapid acknowledged that Israeli airlines face unique problems in paying for security, and ordered the Finance Ministry staff to search for solutions.
Labor faction leader MK Haim Herzog accused Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of negotiating the Open Skies Agreement opaquely, saying he “tricked” the Knesset and the people of Israel.
“In the first emergency incident, the foreign airlines will not land here,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, airlines are not cellular companies,” he added, referring to the popular recent government reforms that successfully brought down mobile carrier prices.
The Tourism Ministry on Sunday said the open skies agreement would result in “an increase of 250,000 tourists from Europe during the first year of its operation. This means the creation of nearly 10,000 new jobs, a significant majority of them in the periphery."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel invoked Ricki Cohen, the fictional archetype of a middle class Israeli woman Lapid famously said he was fighting for at the treasury. "It is important for Ricki Cohen from Hadera to be able to fly cheaply for a vacation abroad, but it's more important that Yossi Cohen, the El Al porter, will have a job tomorrow," Cabel said.
While competition is important, he continued, "it is absolutely unacceptable that the workers will be the ones that pay the price, even if the idea surrounding the reform is justified."
He also noted that the battle was the opening shot in the budget battle, in which the Histadrut has already opposed attempts to cut wages in collective agreements.
Meanwhile, the National Labor Court on late Monday night struck the case from its docket upon receiving word from the two sides that the dispute was settled.
The court complimented the sides on arriving "at a solution for the dispute between them peacefully."
The court also gave the agreement the legal status of a final judgment, binding both sides formally to the agreement.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.