Treasury, Histadrut continue talks to end strike

Sides ordered to submit reports after midnight; Court President Arad to decide on whether strike will continue.

By NADAV SHEMER
February 9, 2012 01:09
2 minute read.
Strike shuts down Ben Gurion Airport (file)

Strike at Ben Gurion Airport 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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An end to the general strike remained elusive on Wednesday night as the Treasury and the Histadrut Labor Federation continued to hold negotiations on how to end the work dispute that began early that morning.

Judge Nili Arad, president of the National Labor Court, ordered Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini to continue their talks, and to notify her by 1 a.m. as to whether they have reached any agreement.

Following that notification, the National Labor Court is expected to make a ruling regarding whether the general strike can continue and if so, in what format.

Arad’s decision to send Steinitz and Eini for further negotiations came after she convened a hearing at 2 p.m. to discuss the strike and the issue of contract workers. That hearing ended without results.

Present at the hearing were Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, contract workers, senior Histadrut and Treasury officials, and employers’ representatives. However, Steinitz asked that Sharon Kedmi, director-general of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, not attend the meeting, because there was “no need,” Army Radio reported.

Wednesday’s Labor Court hearing came after the High Court of Justice refused on Tuesday to intervene in the Labor Court’s decision that the strike could go ahead. The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce had petitioned the High Court, arguing that the strike would cause extensive damage to the economy and that it was not legitimate because its aim was to change employment practices, not protect workers’ rights.

In rejecting the petition, the High Court ordered the parties to attend a National Labor Court hearing for further discussion.

The open-ended general strike began on Wednesday at 6 a.m., after all-night negotiations between Eini and Steinitz ended without an agreement on the employment status of contract workers, who do not receive tenure or benefits.

Eini said following the meeting that the general strike would only end with the intervention of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“If the PM agrees, the strike will end,” he said.

The agreement Eini referred to would allow for the partial transfer of cleaning workers to direct employment, transfer of contract workers whose jobs mirror directly employed workers to direct employment, and granting full workers rights to those who remain as contract workers.

According to a Finance Ministry statement, Steinitz offered to provide hundreds of millions of shekels to improve the work conditions of contract workers. The statement added that the Histadrut was insisting on an “unnecessary strike” that would cost the economy billions of shekels.

Banks, government ministries and railway depots were left shuttered on Wednesday, and air traffic was grounded at Ben-Gurion Airport until the early afternoon.

Wednesday was a normal work day for contract workers, who are not part of the Histadrut.

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