(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel Railways, its employees and the Histadrut labor federation reached an
agreement Monday to postpone a planned strike by two weeks to allow for
additional negotiations over a contentious outsourcing deal signed by the rail
operator a day earlier.
On Sunday night, rail workers sought permission
from the Tel Aviv Labor Court to strike against Israel Railways’ agreement to
outsource maintenance of train cars to Bombardier, the Canadian conglomerate
that manufactures them.
If Israel Railways and its employees fail to
reach an agreement over the coming two weeks, the court will permit workers to
stage a limited strike and the rail carrier will be allowed to implement its
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz praised the
decision to extend talks as a “last-ditch attempt to prevent the public from
paying the price” for the labor dispute.
“The ball is in the
Transportation Ministry’s court,” said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, adding that
his organization’s goal “is not to put the trains on strike, but to operate them
in a way that protects workers’ rights.”
Workers staged a short-lived
strike last week amid news that Israel Railways planned to outsource the
maintenance for 130 train cars to Bombardier. The National Labor Court issued an
injunction last Tuesday ordering them to resume work just 24 hours after the
strike had begun.
After the outsourcing deal was signed Sunday, railway
employees board accused Katz of “declaring war on organized labor” and called on
the court to cancel the agreement.
“We will continue the struggle against
the introduction of contract workers with all available means,” the Histadrut
said Monday morning. “We will not be deterred by the attempt to force the
workers’ hand with heavy-handed [tactics].”
Ahead of this week’s Labor
Court session, Katz had warned that if railway employees continued to strike,
his ministry would not hesitate to shut down the train system. “I don’t want to
shut down the train system,” he said. “But if this turns into a series of wild
strikes and creates a situation in which the system can’t function properly, we
won’t hesitate to close it and reopen it later.”
The agreement reached
Monday stipulated that during the two weeks of negotiations, rail employees
would agree not to take further labor action. It also said, however, that if no
consensus is reached during that time, the agreement would be be considered null
and void and the Histadrut would be able to organize another
Judge Efrat Laxer accepted the interim accord and praised both
sides for showing a willingness to negotiate. “The court congratulates the
Histadrut and the minister on their move to return to the negotiating table in
an attempt to end the dispute via discussions, as is appropriate according to
organized labor relations,” she said.
Laxer said that should no agreement
be reached and rail workers decide to take industrial action, the strike must be
“proportional” in its scope.
The decision to return to talks comes after
the National Labor Court ruled late last year that Israel Railways must freeze
its outsourcing agreement with Bombardier and return to negotiations with rail
workers. The Histadrut and railways employee board have argued that the decision
to contract out rolling stock maintenance to Bombardier would come at the
expense of low-income employees in need of extra work hours.
Railways insists the decision was made by the government, and the company is
therefore unauthorized to enter into negotiations with workers over government