Open-ended port strike shuts down Israeli shipping

Strike comes after salary negotiations among the port workers’ union, Histadrut and Finance Ministry broke down.

By
January 3, 2011 21:44
3 minute read.
Haifa port

haifa port 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Workers at the Eilat, Haifa and Ashdod ports launched an open-ended strike on Monday, after salary negotiations among the port workers’ union, the Histadrut National Labor Union and the Finance Ministry broke down.

As a result of the strike, no cargo will be loaded or unloaded, and the ports will cease to operate until a solution is reached.

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The decision to launch the strike came only a day after the government managed to avert a massive nationwide strike by municipalities, with the parties agreeing to a deal including NIS 900 million in budget supplements and a pledge to reexamine water prices.

The Histadrut issued a statement on Monday saying that the strike had been called after a dead-end was reached Sunday night in salary talks with the Finance Ministry.

The talks have been going on for the past 10 months, and the main disagreement, according to the Histadrut, has been over salary supplements for “second-generation” port workers who began working after the port reforms agreement of 2005. The Histadrut wants those workers to receive a 5-percent salary raise, because they did not receive the salary bonuses awarded under the 2005 agreement. Such workers make up some 500-600 of the 2,300 port workers in Israel.

On Monday, Avi Edri, chairman of the Transportation Workers branch of the Histadrut, which includes port workers, said that “over the past 10 months we have been trying to reach an agreement with the Finance Ministry over salaries. In spite of the small gaps in our demands, the Finance Ministry continues to stick to its position. Today [Monday] we are launching a struggle with no compromises, until we reach a suitable salary agreement for the port workers.”

The Histadrut added that it would launch a committee to deal with extenuating circumstances that could affect the ports during the strike.

The port union wants a 9% salary supplement over the next three years. This is in spite of the fact that under an agreement signed with the Finance Ministry two months ago, the remainder of publicsector employees are set to receive a supplement of only 6.25%.

After the strike was announced Monday, the Finance Ministry issued a statement saying that “port workers, whose average wages are the highest in the public sector following recent reform agreements that increased their wages by 35%, are asking for a collective agreement to raise their salaries by an additional 3.5% per year, double the 1.8% agreed to in the last collective bargaining agreement.”

In regard to the union’s contention that “second-generation” port workers had been left behind and were in need of salary increases, the ministry said that “this is a group whose average salaries have increased by 50% over the past five years and stand at NIS 13,400. Therefore, the contention that they are a neglected population is not justified.”

Finally, the ministry expressed its dismay that the Histadrut “has once again chosen to strengthen the monopolized sectors and high-salary workers, at the expense of weak sectors, an effort that increases wage gaps.”

Port workers are indeed some of the best-paid public sector employees, with Haifa port employees earning an average of NIS 23,000 gross pay per month. Ashdod port workers earn a little less, an average of NIS 22,500 gross pay per month. For port executives and managers, the salaries often run tens of thousands of shekels higher.


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