Histadrut declares work dispute at ports

Workers ratchet up opposition to possible introduction of private contractors.

Haifa Port 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haifa Port 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Histadrut Labor Federation on Tuesday declared a labor dispute in all of Israel's ports in reaction to the Treasury's plan to bring in private contractors for the operations of parts of the ports. "The Finance Ministry is trying to damage unionized labor at the ports in a sophisticated manner, which involves the entry of a company that can swap port workers by contractors," said Avi Edri, chairman of the Histadrut Transportation Workers' Union. In declaring a work dispute at the ports of Haifa, Eilat and Ashdod, the Histadrut and the workers are entitled to launch a general strike at the ports in two weeks' time. The move follows labor sanctions launched by Ashdod and Haifa port workers on Monday to protest against a clause in the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill passed by the cabinet on Sunday. That clause would allow the Israel Ports Company to manage operations at the ports in addition to the agreed role of acting as Israel's port-property landlord, which entails managing the government's assets allocated for the facilitation of its international maritime commerce. "As part of the collective agreements signed in 2005 between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry with regard to the implementation of the port reform, the Israel Ports Company is managing the ports assets and its development and not its operations," Edri said. "In a unilateral move, the Finance Ministry wants to bring in, via legislation, a company to execute operational work at the ports, which has no labor relations with the workers. In practice, it means that the Israel Ports Company could decide at any point in time to use contractor companies." Traffic at the Ashdod and Haifa ports continued to slow down on Tuesday. On Monday, traffic at the Ashdod Port had slowed down in the 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 Monday morning and started to work only after lunch at reduced capacity. At Sunday's cabinet vote on the 2009 state budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini failed to come to an agreement with Finance Ministry budget director Ram Belnikov over the amendment of the port-reform clause. Eini accused the Finance Ministry of acting against collective agreements.