PM: Strike deal fixes 'injustice of many years'

Netanyahu praises Eini, Steinitz for agreement to end general strike and "greatly improve" situation of contract workers.

Netanyahu cabinet meeting 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu cabinet meeting 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised the agreement between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut Labor Federation which brought to a close the general strike over the status of contract workers earlier in the day. He said the agreement helps to fix "an injustice of many years."
"I congratulate Finance Minster Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini on coming to an agreement that greatly improves the wages and working conditions of contract workers," Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.
The Histadrut’s general strike ended only a few hours into its fifth day Sunday, after Eini signed an agreement with Steinitz changing the employment status of tens of thousands of contract workers.
The general strike began Wednesday 6 a.m., shutting down basic services including government offices, banks, trains, higher education institutions, and – briefly at the beginning – Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the Bank of Israel, the strike caused “serious damage to the Israeli economy” at a time when it was already facing difficulties.
Eini and Steinitz finalized their agreement just after 8 a.m. Sunday, following intensive overnight talks between representatives for the two sides, and just hours before National Labor Court President Nili Arad was due to decide on whether to allow the strike to continue.
Under the deal, which came into effect immediately, the Histadrut cannot start any industrial action over wages in the next three years.
Public sector contract workers such as social workers and psychologists whose jobs mirror those of directly employed workers will move into direct employment nine months into their contracts.
Around 70,000 cleaners and security guards employed as contract workers in the public sector will have their contracts tied to existing collective workplace agreements. The minimum wage for these contract workers will rise from NIS 4,100 to NIS 4,500 now, to NIS 4,600 in January 2013, and to NIS 4,650 in July 2013. Like directly employed workers, they will receive superannuation contributions, convalescence pay, subsidized meals, and holiday vouchers.
Eini signed a separate agreement late last week with Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations Chairman Shraga Brosh, who represents some of the country’s largest private employers.
Under that agreement, contract workers such as assembly line laborers, hotel maids and delivery people will move into direct employment after nine months of work. Cleaners working at least 170 hours per month will also move into direct employment after nine months. Cleaners and security guards who remain as contract workers will receive the same wages and conditions as their directly employed counterparts.
The two agreements put an end to more than three months of negotiations over the issue of contract workers. Judge Arad first ordered the sides to negotiate after allowing the Histadrut to hold a four-hour strike on November 7.
Yacimovich: Government should also stand up for contract workers
Meanwhile, Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich congratulated the Histadrut on its accomplishments, saying that working conditions have been improved for hundreds.
“It cannot be that the Histadrut is the only element fighting for the contract workers. The responsibility for stopping this cruel, ugly phenomenon rests on the government’s and the Knesset’s shoulders,” she said.
Yacimovich blamed a “wild economic approach,” which she said takes advantage of the weak as much as possible. She added: “Until a social-democratic government is elected, contract work, one of the most serious problems in Israeli society, will not end.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said the agreement was a small step in the larger battle against manpower companies, which he claimed take advantage of their workers. He called to increase the enforcement of labor laws and added that government offices should only practice direct employment, as opposed to hiring contract workers.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.