Ben-Gurion Airport was shut down for nearly eight hours on Monday due to a strike by Israel Aviation Authority workers over their pensions and disagreements between the finance and transportation ministers. The strike was brought to an end after an agreement was struck between the workers, the IAA, and the ministries. However, the flights could have resumed earlier were it not for a dispute between the ministers over the details of the agreement.
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Roughly 50 flights were canceled or delayed affecting thousands of passengers. Schedule disruptions are expected to continue for the next two to three days.
The first flights eventually left the airport at 6:30 p.m., but for many of the passengers who had been waiting there all day, it was already too late. To prevent further disruption to the flight schedule, airport officials will attempt to commence departures according to their original timeslots and fit in the canceled flights over the next two days. As a result, many of those who had missed their flights in the morning were asked to go home and check with their airlines when their rescheduled flights were to take place.
Throughout the day, the departure hall was packed with passengers waiting to go through security and check in to their flights, while everything else remained dormant.
Even the departure board in the terminal continued to show that flights were leaving on time, because there was no one there to update them.
Despite earlier reports of an imminent strike, the standstill caught the passengers by surprise.
While workers had been negotiating with management over the issues for the last few days, the airlines weren’t told about the exact time of the strike in advance, and had no way of letting their passengers know before they left for the airport.
In the arrival hall, disgruntled passengers who had landed but whose luggage had not been released protested. Police had to be called in to disperse a crowd of Breslav Hassidim who returned from a pilgrimage to Uman and mounted the luggage conveyor belts, demanding that their suitcases be brought to them.
No other incidents were recorded. Police announced they would increase their presence at the airport overnight.
In the early afternoon, as negotiations advanced, the union permitted the workers to unload bags from planes that had landed throughout the day and those passengers who chose to wait for their luggage were able to collect it.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, workers’ representatives hashed out a deal with the Finance Ministry that would ensure the safety of workers’ pensions, guaranteeing that the money, roughly NIS 2.5 billion, would be put in a trust strictly for pension purposes and not be used at the IAA management’s discretion.
Workers feared that the money would be used to pay for compensation to homeowners in towns surrounding the airport who suffered property devaluation as a result of the airport’s expansion.
According to the agreement, the IAA chairman will place the money in a fund within no more than 60 days.
“I’m glad that we were able to ensure the workers’ and retirees’ pension funds. All the same, I am sorry that we had to take the path of going on strike and that the government representatives didn’t attempt to solve the dispute beforehand,” said Avi Nisankorn, chairman of the Professional Union Department in the Histadrut labor federation, who managed the negotiations.
“We embarked on a just battle and we are glad that we were able to ensure the future of the workers and retirees of the IAA. We achieved the goal of ensuring the pensions and that was the important thing,” said Pinchas Idan, the union chairman.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the highest priority during the negotiations had been to end the strike as soon as possible. “I am glad that we managed to minimize the harm to Israel’s citizens and brought the strike to an end with the aid of the Transportation Ministry, the IAA and the workers,” he said.
The passengers weren’t the only ones upset about the strike. During the course of the day, voices were heard from all across the political and financial spectra, calling on the government and the workers to reach an agreement rapidly. Israel’s tourism and industry leaders were particularly anxious to see the strike come to an end and regular airport services renewed, warning of disastrous implications to Israel’s tourism and financial situation.
In a letter to Steinitz, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov stated that Israel was at the height of its best tourism year ever. “The ramifications of a strike precisely now on incoming tourism to Israel will be very significant both in the short term, causing tourists and passengers to suffer for having to wait for hours before entering or leaving Israel, and in the long term, harming Israel’s image as a welcoming, high-quality tourism country.
“Needless to say, these days every tourist is an asset, ensuring the livelihood of the many employees of the tourism industry,” said Meseznikov.
Uriel Lyn, president of the Israeli chambers of commerce association, slammed the workers for the timing of the strike, in the midst of the busy holiday season. “The strike is drastic because of its timing.
They chose to do it during the holidays, when the harm to the public is most damaging.”
During the last two hours of the strike, after the agreement with the workers had already been reached, Transportation and Finance Ministry officials argued between themselves over what the source for the compensation funding would be.