Strike begins in public sector; no injunction from courts

National Labor Court still hasn't reached decision on petition for injunction against general strike; at issue: 100,000 contract workers.

National Labor Court, general strike_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
National Labor Court, general strike_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A general strike began Monday at 6 a.m. after the National Labor Court  failed to announce a decision on a petition for an injunction. The court was still deliberating on the matter at the time commencement of the strike.
Most of the public sector was set to shut down for an indefinite period under the strike, including airports, seaports, mass transportation, local authorities, government offices, hospitals and universities.
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The court convened late Sunday night after a preliminary hearing that National Labor Court President Nili Arad held with the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut ended without any positive results. According to the Finance Ministry, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini rejected Arad’s offer of several weeks of negotiations under the auspices of the court, while the Finance Ministry had accepted it.
The Finance Ministry, Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations and Union of Local Authorities all sought injunctions against the strike, which the Histadrut labor federation declared late last week.
Eini said the strike would go ahead unless overturned by the court, after a pre-hearing meeting with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz ended without resolution.
The Histadrut said in a statement after the meeting that it would “not continue to conduct negotiations unless the finance minister changed his stance” on the employment status of contract workers.
The Histadrut wants more than 100,000 cleaners, guards and maintenance staff servicing the public sector as contract workers to be moved into direct employment. Steinitz and Finance Ministry officials say they support improving the salaries and work conditions of contract workers, but the Histadrut says this is not enough.
The strike would cost the economy around NIS 400 million a day, Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association and chairman of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, told Channel 2 News.
Eini said at a press conference Sunday afternoon that the strike was going ahead “because we have no other choice.
“The state has turned into the biggest criminal and is fleeing from the law which it introduced,” he said.
Responding to comments made by Steinitz the previous day that he was ready to adopt the models of advanced-welfare states like Sweden, Eini said: “Mr.
Finance Minister, I am ready for us to be the same as Sweden, but in full... In Sweden only 1.5 percent of the employed are contract workers. Here is it is 20%.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning pleaded for the Histadrut to cancel the strike, and said it was possible to find a “just and responsible solution” to the issue.
“Just – because we are all aware of the genuine plight of the contract workers. Responsible – because we must bring a solution that will not harm the Israeli economy, at a time that we are witnessing the upheaval of world markets,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“I believe that there is no need to disrupt Israelis’ lives or to cause heavy damage to the Israeli economy. My government and the Histadrut see eye-to-eye on the good of Israel’s workers. This is not mere talk. We can attest to the many steps that we have carried out – Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini, with my backing – to improve workers’ salaries,” the prime minister said.
In their request to the court for injunctions, Chambers of Commerce attorney Shlomi Loya argued that the Histadrut was using the strike as a “weapon to get around the democratic structure, in order to achieve a decision by means of the severest kind of pressure there is.”
Although the Histadrut had said the strike aimed to protect the rights of contract workers, it wanted to “make a revolution and fundamentally change the employment structure in Israel so that all workers will be employed directly by their employers,” Loya said.
At least one Likud cabinet member backed the Histadrut, with Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon attacking Steinitz over the issue at a party meeting on Sunday morning, Channel 2 reported.
Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich also expressed support for the Histadrut, saying: “The struggle for the rights of contract workers is the most important facing Israeli society.”