AS SOMEONE who sits on the boards of several social-welfare organizations, Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Strauss Group, is doing a lot more than paying mere lip service to the anxieties of the less fortunate members of society. Rather than fire people or cut the salaries of employees, thereby changing their status to needy, Strauss, who earns considerably more than the people on her payroll, decided to cut her own salary by 15 percent, and company CEO Erez Vigodman is doing the same. Neither of them is going to be all that much poorer for the sacrifice. Each earns a gross monthly salary close to NIS 120,000. The 15% salary cut will also reduce the amount of tax they pay, but the numbers are less significant than the desire to make sure that all their employees feel safe in their jobs and continue to perform well.
It would be wonderful if their example was emulated in every other major business enterprise, or even in small businesses. Some 25 years ago, two valued members of the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post were in danger of losing their jobs. The staff held a meeting to vote on forfeiting their cost-of-living wage increments to pay the salaries of the two people involved. Only one person voted against. A similar proposal by the Histadrut - that every employee in Israel forfeit one or more vacation days to help prevent the firing of workers in general - met with approval in the private sector but not in the public sector, although one would imagine that it would have been the other way around.
In some companies, workers are voluntarily forfeiting a portion of their salaries to enable their colleagues to remain on the job, while in other companies, employers have decided to cut salaries rather than staff and have been able to refrain from dismissals. Of course, it doesn't work everywhere. Some companies have lost too much money or are not earning enough money to be able to guarantee that all their workers will have job security; some are simply too small to be able to retain as many people as they did in better times.
THE 17th Knesset also volunteered to freeze salaries for this year rather than enjoy the fruits of the automatic increase. Even so, the members of the 18th Knesset have got it easy compared to the rest of the public sector and many people working in the private sector. Taking into account seasonal and Jewish holiday recesses, the current Knesset will work a total of 70 days in 2009.
MKs will receive a monthly salary of NIS 33,259 plus all kinds of perks paid on a monthly or annual basis, such as a food and beverage allowance, a clothing allowance and a special allowance for maintaining contact with the public. In addition, each MK gets the use of a car, a cellphone for themselves and their parliamentary aides and a free daily newspaper, not to mention a handsome pension when he or she is voted out of office or retires.
Each MK costs the public purse roughly NIS 1 million per year. We have a budget-conscious prime minister designate who is in the process of forming a government with an as yet unknown number of coalition partners and ministers. The cost of maintaining a ministry is roughly NIS 2m., before all the extras such as trips abroad and special campaigns to highlight the ministry's work.
The first government of Israel, which was a coalition of four parties, had 12 ministers who held all 18 portfolios. The outgoing government, at its inception, was more than double the size of the first government of Israel, and most governments have created new ministries along the way in response to current needs or to accommodate coalition partners, or both. Some of these portfolios have included: Tourism, Housing and Construction, Strategic Affairs, National Infrastructures, Development, Information, Economics, Economic Planning, Inter-Ministry Coordination, Energy, Science and Technology, Jerusalem Affairs, Environment, Pensioner Affairs, Strategic Affairs, Development of the Negev and the Galilee, and Diaspora and Fighting Anti-Semitism.
Of these, some have remained constant; others have fallen or will fall by the wayside. The first government of Israel did not have a tourism minister or a housing and construction minister, but it did have a minister of rationing and supply, and the title of the minister for religious affairs also included war victims.
We now have to wait and see which ministries will be abolished in the new government and whether any new ones will be introduced to appease coalition partners. We also have to hope that, aside from reasons of stability, this government will last a full term, because election campaigns for the 18th Knesset cost the tax payer about NIS 180m. - and only because it was a short campaign due to Operation Cast Lead. Had it run the regular course of a campaign, it might have cost much more.
ARGUABLY ISRAEL'S best-known supermodel worldwide, Bar Rafaeli, is constantly making headlines, both at home and abroad. On the home front she has filed a NIS 4.4m. suit in Tel Aviv District Court against Suny Communications, the importer of Samsung cellphones, for violating a contractual agreement signed with her mother, Tzipi, in November 2006, which limited Suny to using still shots and a promotional film clip in which she had starred to a four-month period. Moreover, the contract stipulated that the material could be used only in Israel and could not be sold or transferred elsewhere.
Suny, according to the suit, had ignored this clause in the contract and screened the clips in cinemas beyond the fourth-month limitation. Rafaeli had been paid $50,000 for the assignment. When she came to the set, she was somewhat surprised to see that she was being filmed during preparations for the contracted clip, but was given to understand that these shots were purely for internal use. They were later shown on the Internet.
ELBIT SYSTEMS Ltd. has announced the appointment of Adi Dar as general manager of Elbit Systems Electro-Optics Elop Ltd. Dar will replace Haim Rousso, who will become Elbit Systems Ltd.'s executive vice president for engineering and technology excellence. The appointments become effective on April 7.