Trash piles up during Local Authorities strike 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Local Authorities strike that began Monday will end at some point Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said. On Monday, Yishai's representatives met with the Union of Local Authorities and said progress had been made to end the strike. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, rejected the understandings reached, saying they would cost billions of shekels and calling the Local Authorities' demands "unrealistic."
The understanding on most issues, Yishai
said Monday, included the freezing of "damaging legislation" and the
cancellation of the 16 percent value-added tax on water.
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Ending the strike Tuesday will allow discussions with the Prime Minister's Office director-general with the aim of presenting recommendations to Netanyahu on solving the Local Authorities' problems within a month, Yishai told Israel Radio.
Yishai said that the understandings he reached with representatives of the Union of Local Authorities will not cost billions of shekels, as Netanyahu said Monday. The interior minister said that the demands of the local authorities are justified but that time is is needed to solve the problems.
A representative of the Union of Local Authorities said Monday that the strike
would continue until Netanyahu approved the
understanding reached between the sides.
The strike began Monday, bringing services by municipal workers to a
halt. Those walking off the job included parking inspectors, school bus
drivers, garbage collectors, welfare services staff, security guards at
educational institutions and meat and fish inspectors.
Netanyahu called Monday night for the union to end its strike, and give
four weeks to conduct negotiations. However, he said the government
could not expand the state budget beyond the country’s means, referring
to the global economic troubles that saw Standard & Poor’s downgrade
the credit ratings of France and other EU members this week.
The Union of Local Authorities says it is protesting a recent decision
to increase municipal property tax (arnona) rates against its wishes, as
well as “populist laws and bills that direct money away from education,
student safety, transport, the environment, welfare, culture and
pensioners.” Its list of demands includes cancellation of the water tax,
and the return of NIS 500 million to a section of the education budget
reserved for local authorities.
The union said special institutions for disabled children would operate
as usual on Tuesday, following criticism from Welfare and Social
Services Minister Moshe Kahlon over their inclusion in the first day of
the strike. An estimated 146,000 children with disabilities were
stranded at home on Monday.
“While I support the freedom for workers to take strike action, children
with disabilities should not be part of this game,” said Kahlon, who
was speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem showcasing the programs
his ministry provides for the country’s poorest sectors.
The strike was expected to continue Tuesday, but without the
participation of Likud-led cities such as Netanya, Modi’in and Nazareth
Nazareth Illit mayor Shimon Gabso said at a Likud meeting Monday that
mayors affiliated to the party would end their participation in the
strike should the union refuse a request from Netanyahu to discuss its
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Labor Party chairwoman Shelly
Yacimovich both backed the strike during their respective party
meetings on Monday.
Livni said the mayors were staging the strike not to protect their own
rights, but rather to protect their duty to serve their residents.
Yacimovich said the government was abandoning local authorities, which
“are not some trivial sector, but rather part of the state itself.”
Former journalist Yair Lapid, who is forming a political party, said the
cause behind the strike was just, but that the strike itself was not.
The mayors are correct because Yishai’s arnona program is “populist and
damaging,” and is designed to obtain property tax exemptions for his own
haredi (ultra-Orthodox) constituency, Lapid said.
But he added that the strike would cost the economy NIS 2.3 billion each
day, and urged the Union of Local Authorities to give the prime
minister a chance to meet their demands.Nadav Shemer, Ruth Eglash and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.