Lapid weighing ways to curtail union strikes

Israel spends more time on strike than any European country; Shelly Yacimovich says limiting unions is undemocratic and evil.

Lapid speaking at the Knesset 150 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lapid speaking at the Knesset 150
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid is considering steps to stymie labor unions’ ability to strike, a spokesman confirmed on Monday, to the dismay of opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and the Histadrut labor federation.
Although Lapid promised not to pursue any action to eliminate or even limit the National Labor Court following a meeting with Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, he would not rule out other avenues of circumscribing the situations under which unions are allowed to strike.
Under the law, the Histadrut has the authority to shut down basic services including public transportation, schools, trash collection, commercial ports and the airport in a general strike.
An analysis based on data collected by the International Labor Organization found that Israel spends more time on strike than any European nation for which data was available, with the occasional exception of Lithuania.
From 1999-2007, for every thousand people who work in Israel, 390 of them will be on strike a day each year. In contrast, the corresponding figure for the United States hovered near zero most years.
“Since [Histadrut chairman Ofer] Eini was appointed, the number of strikes in the economy has dropped,” the Histadrut said when asked to comment on the figures.
“The Histadrut believes in negotiating and not striking.
Strikes are a means, not a goal.”
Following a two-day airline strike over the Open Skies agreement last week, Eini threatened a general strike, saying he would use “all available means” to prevent cuts to government workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions.
Eini will gather the Histadrut’s governing bodies on Tuesday, and is expected to declare a general labor dispute, a necessary precursor to a strike.
In his quest to cut billions of shekels from the 2013- 2014 budget and bring down the deficit from around 4.5 percent of the GDP to its 3 percent target, Lapid has promised to reexamine agreements signed with previous governments.
“There are those in the Finance Ministry trying to drag the minister into a war with organized labor and cause an earthquake in Israeli society,” the Histadrut said in response to reports of Lapid’s plans.
“The time has come for the finance minister to expel from his vicinity those working against the Israeli economy and trying, once more, to make the working man a hostage, lacking basic rights.”
Yacimovich railed against the possibility of limiting organized labor at a Labor faction meeting Monday afternoon.
“If this government is so democratic, what has happened to the important basic right for which many in the world have fought and shed blood over, and is anchored in international accords – the right to strike and to unionize?” she asked.
According to Yacimovich, organized labor is the only way in which workers can fight back when someone wants to unilaterally curtail their rights.
The Labor leader also criticized rumors that Lapid wants to raise the number of workers necessary to unionize.
“This is evil, because in any case workers in small companies are afraid to unionize,” she said. “Who do they want to harm? This is the working middle class. If they declare war on the workers, there will be a war.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) submitted an urgent request to discuss the matter in the Knesset’s plenum.
“The reforms [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and Lapid are promoting leave the working man alone without a safety net to protect him from his employers,” Gilon said.
“Under the guise of new politics, Lapid is retreading Netanyahu’s old policies and bringing us back to the dark days in which the right to strike and the labor laws were a distant dream.”