The Knesset Labor Committee on Sunday approved for second and third (final) readings in the plenum a measure that would compel employers to hold negotiations over collective bargaining agreements. Under the proposed amendment to the labor law, if at least a third of the employees agree to be represented by a union, the employer would have to negotiate with union representative over a collective labor agreements. However, the amendment would not oblige the employer to sign an agreement. "The ability of workers to organize themselves is a basic right," committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud) said. "The change in the law will avert a situation in which employers lay off employees because they organize themselves and forces employers for the first time to hold negotiations over collective agreements. It is another step forward, which empowers the status of employees in Israel." In addition, the amendment determines that if an employer fails to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, he could face two years in imprisonment. Katz is secretary of the National Workers Union of Israel Aerospace Industries and chairman of the policy-making staff in the Histadrut Labor Federation regarding pension funds. "It is inconceivable that the failure to hold negotiations on the side of employers is turned into a criminal offense," said Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, who launched a media campaign against the proposed changes. "It has become a running trend to view every proposal against employers as good and healthy." Also speaking to the Knesset Labor Committee, Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut and the main initiator of the proposed changes, dismissed Lynn's arguments. "This is not an attempt to coerce employers. Everything has been formulated in agreement," said Eini. "Employers are firing or imposing sanctions on workers who want to unionize. The only way for workers to keep their head up is by organizing themselves. We want to avoid strike actions as much as possible and as we are seeing the number of strikes has been reduced to nearly zero. We need to praise the fact that employers, workers and the government have been able to reach an compromise via agreement." The proposed amendments to the labor laws were negotiated as part of the package deal which was reached at the economic round table between the government, employer organizations and the Histadrut. "I represent 440,000 businesses in Israel and I can say that we have struck a balanced deal at the economic round table," said Shraga Brosh, president of the Israel Manufacturers Association. "The obligation to hold negotiations as proposed in the amendment to the law serves as a tool to introduce peaceful labor relations and secure industrial quiet." Separately the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce published a survey on Sunday, which found that 67 percent of a sample of hi-tech managers were concerned that they might have to close their operations in Israel as a result of the proposed changes to the labor laws. The survey, conducted by the Panels research center among 211 hi-tech managers and other hi-tech workers, showed that 58% were against the proposed amendments to the labor laws. In reaction, the Manufacturers Association said the survey was tendentious and had turned to hi-tech people who did not know labor laws. "The concern of the hi-tech managers as presented in the FICC survey is caused by the media campaign [against the changes], which is misleading the public and has no bearing in reality," said Yudka Segev, director of the Manufacturers Association.