Last ditch effort today to avert strike

The last time the union called in a general strike in the public sector in March this year and November last year.

Locals and tourists may be in for a chaotic week as a strike in the public sector could start as early as Tuesday at the height of the peak summer season if last ditch talks today between Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On fail to yield a deal on public sector wages. "The Treasury's budget division, which has been our main negotiator in the negotiations over an increase of public sector salaries in recent months, is not prepared to make us a serious offer," Eini said Sunday. "Our last resort to avert a general strike in the public sector is the meeting with the finance minister." Eini will meet with Bar-On late this afternoon (Monday) to try to prevent a strike that would cover about 700,000 employees. "Bar-On will need to express serious commitment by the Finance Ministry to come back to the negotiation table, otherwise we will have no other option than declare a general public strike," the Histadrut said. The last time the union called in a general strike in the public sector in March this year and November last year, the labor unrest shut down almost all public services, with the closure of ports, airports, schools and universities, post offices and government offices, costing the economy around NIS 500 million daily. Long lines formed outside banks, as fears grew that cash dispensers would soon run out of money, and chaos broke out at Ben-Gurion Airport as travelers fought to board earlier flights ahead of the closure. Meanwhile, a discussion group at Young Olim United, raised much concern ahead of the possible strike action at the height of the summer peak season and called for Anglos to step up and make their voices heard by writing a letter to the President of the National Labor Court condemning the Histadrut strike as an "inexcusable act of selfishness and insensitivity." "Even if you are not planning a trip, there are thousands who are. Even if you are not expecting visitors, there are thousands who are," the group said in its call. Trying to avert catastrophe, the Tourism Ministry has requested that Eini exclude tourism-related businesses such as the airport from any work action but said it had received no response from the union. Eini's strike threat was announced at the end of last week after a meeting with the Finance Ministry's wages director, Eli Cohen, who proposed a total increase of 0.2 percent to the workers' salaries for the years 2006 and 2007. In recent months of negotiations over a new salary agreement, the public sector workers' unions have been demanding a 10.4% wage increase for the 700,000 public sector employees retroactive from 2001, claiming that their wages have been eroded in real terms in recent years. Cohen, who previously maintained that the state would not grant any increase to its employees' wages, warned that a 10% public sector wage increase demanded by the Histadrut would cost the government NIS 8 billion in additional budget spending next year and was poised to lead to a wage increase at a cost of billions of shekels for the business sector as a whole.