Ministries deny IDF port takeover if workers strike

Bennett asks Antitrust Authority to declare ports a monopoly in order to introduce competition.

Haifa port 521 (photo credit: LIAT COLLINS)
Haifa port 521
(photo credit: LIAT COLLINS)
For the second day in a row, rumors flew around the political scene on Monday that the government was formulating a plan to deploy IDF troops in the event of a port strike.
“No such program exists in the Transportation Ministry,” a ministry spokesman said.
“There’s no plan I know of for the IDF to enter the ports,” added a spokesman for Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, adding that journalists “got carried away. I think what they were getting at was ‘We’re ready for battle.’” Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Sunday he was considering legislation to circumscribe port strikes and allowing foreign companies to operate ports in the event of a strike, but made no mention of any plans to deploy the army.
On Monday, Bennett requested that the Antitrust Authority commissioner declare the ports a monopoly, which would force the ports to sell some of their platforms to new companies.
That, he argued, would be a way to introduce competition quickly instead of waiting an estimated six years for a new private port to be built.
The commissioner on Friday classified the ports as oligopolies, barring them from opening new ports or platforms.
Bennett also requested that he investigate the ports for possibly creating other barriers to entry in the market.
Each year, the Israeli economy imports and exports goods totaling over 60% of GDP through the sea ports, Bennett said.
“The lack of competition puts an excessive, expensive burden on the Israeli public of hundreds of millions of shekels a year,” he declared.
The Israel Manufacturers Association estimated that a week of port strikes cost the business sector NIS 340m. in revenue, and cost the economy some NIS 200m.
A Finance Ministry report released Monday showed that the top three wage-earners in state-owned companies were all ports, with the annual Haifa port wage topping the list at NIS 458,400 in 2012, nearly triple the national average.
The report also showed, however, that while the ports remained profitable, the fourth highest wage-earner on the list, the Israel Electric Corporation, accounted for most of losses in the government companies. Whereas the ports brought in NIS 508m. in 2012, the IEC lost NIS 692m.
In response to the rumors of IDF intervention in the ports, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom announced Monday that he would “stand with the workers at the harbor gates if it is decided to bring in the army.”
“This is a crazy idea that must be taken off the agenda immediately. I don’t want to live in a country that deploys the army to break unions,” he said.