Histadrut readies plan, threatens strike

Disappointed with the Treasury's economic stimulus plan, Labor Federation is working on an alternative plan to provide a pension safety net.

Bar-On 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bar-On 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Disappointed with the Treasury's economic stimulus plan, the Histadrut Labor Federation and manufacturers are working on an alternative plan to provide a pension safety net, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said Thursday at a Kibbutz Industry Association conference. In addition, the Histadrut is preparing to call for a general strike in the public sector, he said. "The Histadrut will not stop at unionized actions," Eini said. "We will lead a legislative process for an economic plan that will provide an answer to businesses in difficulties, the public's savings and avert layoffs." After an unsuccessful meeting Wednesday night with Finance Ministry Budget Supervisor Ram Belinkov, who rejected the Histadrut's demand for a pension safety net, Eini announced that he would convene the leaders of country's big unions on Sunday. The intention, he said, would be to declare a labor dispute in protest against the Treasury's economic stimulus plan and the refusal to provide a pension safety net for employees. By law, the Histadrut can call a strike within two weeks of declaring a dispute. "The Treasury's plan is nonsense; it is too small and too late, without any measures for immediate solutions to help the local economy cope with the global economic slowdown," Shlomo Maoz, chief economist at Excellence Nessuah Investment House, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. "This is clearly not the time to go on a strike, which is likely to further slow down the economy. "The government should declare that it will nationalize or bail out local companies if they are in trouble, help the stricken corporate-bond market, and reduce the damage to the returns of pension and provident funds. In addition, the government should consider the provision of some form of a pension safety net for the over-60s." Rafi Melnick, an economics professor and deputy president of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, told the Post Thursday that chances of getting the Treasury's plan passed and implemented were close to zero without a functioning government and a state budget for 2009 in place. "The harsh criticism raised against the Treasury's plan is politically rather than economically motivated," said Melnick. "The Histadrut will not go on strike on the eve of elections. But in any case, whatever compromise is reached is an empty compromise and will not hold up until we have a functioning government." Eini said the Treasury's NIS 21.7 billion economic plan - which was presented Wednesday and aims to moderate the effects of a global slowdown, increase total investments in the economy and create 10,000 jobs - lacks two crucial components: a safety net for employees who are reaching retirement age and are seeing their savings disappear, and measures to avert layoffs. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said the plan dealt only with economic measures, adding that in the long term, the ministry was not excluding intervention in the financial market. Also speaking at the Kibbutz Industry Association conference, Finance Ministry director-general Yarom Ariav said the Treasury and the Bank of Israel have in recent weeks been working on financial measures that would be implemented if the financial situation deteriorates dramatically and poses a serious threat to the public's savings. "The public should know that we have measures that will be unveiled and implemented at the right time," he said. "But we will not act irresponsibly because of public pressure." Business leaders and Knesset members blasted the economic stimulus plan. "A solution needs to be found for the problem of employees' pension savings," Manufacturers Association of Israel president Shraga Brosh said. "It is important for the public to know more about the plan the Treasury is hiding in the drawer to stop the public's panic." The Knesset Finance Committee will meet next week to discuss Bar-On's plan, which at the moment does not enjoy majority support. Representatives from Shas, Labor, the Likud and Meretz are demanding that the program be expanded.