Labor Court delays contract workers strike decision

National Labor Court held its long-awaited hearing on the Histadrut labor federation’s request to hold a general strike.

By NADAV SHEMER
January 10, 2012 01:49
3 minute read.
Israel's Supreme Court

Israeli Supreme Court 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)

 
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The National Labor Court held its long-awaited hearing Monday on the Histadrut labor federation’s request to hold a general strike over the employment status of contract workers, but it could take weeks until a verdict is delivered.

Judge Nili Arad said there was no rush to deliver a decision, and recommended the Histadrut return to negotiations with the Treasury and employers. Arad said she did not want to rule out the labor federation’s right to declare a strike, adding that if further negotiations did not produce results, it should come back to the court for a decision.

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Dozens of activists demonstrated outside the court during the five-hour deliberation, including Daphni Leef, the Tel Avivian who sparked last summer’s protests over the cost of living, and professors Avia Spivak and Yossi Yona, prominent figures in the protest movement.

Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini told Arad that even if she approved the request, “we would not conduct a strike tomorrow morning.”

He said the aim of the request was to speed up negotiations, because since the court’s previous decision against a strike, “the Treasury has been ignoring us.”

The court first ordered the sides to conduct negotiations over the status of contract workers after allowing the Histadrut to hold a fourhour strike on November 7.

The Histadrut says it wants to put an end to the practice of employing cleaners and maintenance personnel on a contractual basis, by transferring them into direct employment. The Treasury says it supports improving the labor conditions of contract workers, but rejects discontinuing the practice altogether.



“If there is no right to strike over the issue of contract workers, then over what other matters is it still possible to strike?” Eini said at Monday’s hearing. “I am pleased that at least the judges are still public servants, because if the Treasury has its way on outsourcing services, soon they will outsource judiciary services and judges too will become contract workers.”

Eini said negotiations were at a dead end, and accused the Treasury of withdrawing an offer to approve salary supplements for cleaners employed in the public sector on a contractual basis.

The Treasury, represented at the deliberation by an attorney, called the strike “political,” and said the matter should be resolved through collective agreements such as the one signed between it and the Histadrut one year ago.

Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations Chairman Shraga Brosh, who has also been involved in the negotiations, said he came to the court to make sure it prevented the strike, but then blamed the government for providing the Histadrut with justification for its request.

“The claims made by the state are like those made by a robber who complains he is being robbed. We stand here today mainly because the government turned the method [of outsourcing employment] into a system, and it employs tens of thousands of contract workers on a scale that does not exist in the private sector.”

Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce President Uriel Lynn said the matter essentially boiled down to the Histadrut’s desire to prevent businesses from determining their own employment structure.

“A business cannot be told when to use labor through direct employment and when to use it through outsourcing.

If we obligate all employers to carry out their business activities through direct employment, without giving them the ability to coordinate their activities with evolving market conditions – the result will be the collapse of tens of thousands of business, as happened in the 1980s,” he said.

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