Ashdod, Haifa ports launch sanctions

Histadrut backtracks from strike in the public sector after budget adjustments.

Haifa Port 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa Port 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ashdod and Haifa port workers on Monday launched labor sanctions to protest a clause in the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill that approves the use of private contractors, which they said threatens their jobs. "In light of the approval of the draft budget 2009 and the Economic Arrangements Bill, which includes the implementation of the landlord model at Israel's ports, the workers are staging sanctions that are poised to lead to disruptions at the port," the Ashdod Port Company said Monday. Although a work dispute was not officially launched, activity and operations at the two ports were impaired on Monday. Zvi Plada, chairman of the haulage division at the Manufacturers Association of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post traffic at the Ashdod Port had slowed down Monday morning, reducing activity by 40 to 50 percent during the course of the day. Employees at the Haifa Port took part in a workers' committee meeting on Monday morning and started to work only after lunch at reduced capacity. "The economy is not yet feeling the impact, but if sanctions continue for another two or three days, the effect will be catastrophic," Plada said. "Local exporters will not be able to receive raw materials, which will lead to a delay in production and export of goods." As part of the implementation of the ports reform, which began in 2005, the ports are moving from an operator port model to a so-called landlord model. In applying the landlord model, the Finance Ministry wants to bring in new private operators at the ports. "The adaptation of the landlord model, as detailed in the bill, would give outside operators and contractors the possibility to take up more influence and responsibilities within the ports, such as supervision, while it was agreed that they would be brought in to assist in the development of the ports, such as road building," Plada said. "If the bill is approved in this current format without the consultation of the workers, industrial action will continue to intensify over the next few days." The clause is one of the items Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini is strongly opposed to. Last week he said implementation of the landlord model in its current format violated the collective agreements signed with the Histadrut on ports reform. Eini accused the Finance Ministry of failing to coordinate the proposed measures with the Histadrut and the workers at the ports. In response to the industrial action, the Histadrut said it was considering whether to launch a labor dispute at the ports in the next few days. Meanwhile, the Histadrut on Monday backtracked from its plan to call for a general strike in the public sector after coming to an agreement with Finance Ministry budget director Ram Belnikov over the cancellation or amendment of clauses in the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill it opposed. "The majority of clauses in the proposed bill harming workers' rights were settled with Belnikov, and therefore we decided not to declare a labor dispute," Eini said. "With regard to controversial clauses that have not been settled yet, such as structural changes at the ports and the Wisconsin welfare-to-work plan, we will continue the battle ahead of the budget debate in the Knesset." Last Thursday, Eini threatened to declare a work dispute in the public sector if the government approved the proposed 2009 Economics Arrangements Bill in its proposed format at Sunday's cabinet meeting. The Histadrut was opposed to a number of clauses in the bill, as presented originally together with the 2009 state budget, including structural reforms and retirement of employees, which it argued would lead to thousands of layoffs of government workers and infringe workers' rights secured by collective agreements. Among the clauses in the bill that will be pulled from the Economic Arrangements Bill is a measure for cutting manpower in government offices; the bill would have granted financial incentives for ministries to retire or make employees redundant. In addition, a clause in the bill regarding the closure of the educational television channel was amended so that any closure or other structural change will have to be decided in consent with the Histadrut. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On promised Eini in writing that all the changes relating to the educational television channel would be postponed by three months for the sides to reach an agreement. Furthermore, the clause regarding the privatization of public transport was revoked.