Railway workers ‘never meant for strike to hurt passengers’

“We even thought of taking passengers for free... but we aren’t allowed to do that," head of Israel Railways’ employee board says.

By OREN KESSLER
February 15, 2012 23:43
2 minute read.
Jerusalem train station

Jerusalem train station 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Striking rail workers never intended to harm passengers, the head of Israel Railways’ employee board said on Wednesday at a special Knesset committee hearing.

“We came here in great pain,” Gila Edray told the Knesset Finance Committee. “We tried to find a solution – we even thought of taking passengers for free... but we aren’t allowed to do that.”

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The session ended without a definitive decision, but with chairman MK Carmel Shama- Hacohen calling for no more disruptions to public transportation after Tuesday’s oneday strike stranded thousands of rail passengers nationwide.

“In most countries in the world, you can’t just stop trains from running,” MK Yisrael Eichler said. “Even in countries like Romania, where the trains are inefficient, it isn’t done.”

Edray accused Israel Railways executives of taking advantage of their workers, whom she said they described as “barbarians and criminals.”

Asked why she continued the strike even after ordered against it by the Tel Aviv Labor Court, Edray said the workers had done so of their own accord.

“We even called employees from the courthouse and told them to return to work,” she said, adding that she had tried to contact Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz but was refused a meeting.

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Yaron Zeft, the rail carrier’s legal adviser, accused Edray of contempt of court for ignoring the court order. “The court determined yesterday that the employee board had violated three court orders one after the other,” he said. “The board prevented Railways employees from going to work; they even behaved violently.”

Footage of the clashes screened Wednesday night on the evening new programs confirmed his statement.

Edray said she did not understand why the striking workers had not received more public support. “I don’t understand why it’s considered contempt of court if there’s a labor dispute, especially when one has permission from the Histadrut labor federation to wage a strike,” she told Army Radio.

“The public is with us.”

The one-day strike ended on Tuesday night, but a judge fined Edray and two other leaders of the employee board for ignoring the court order against a strike, and for turning up late to their court hearing.

The labor dispute was sparked by Railways executives’ decision earlier this week to outsource maintenance work to Bombardier – the Canadian conglomerate that manufactures its train cars – rather than keep the work in-house and provide low-income employees with additional pay.

Globes contributed to this report.

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