Strike ends as Histadrut, Treasury sign deal

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)
The Histadrut’s general strike ended only a few hours into its fifth day Sunday, after the labor federation’s chairman, Ofer Eini, signed an agreement with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz changing the employment status of tens of thousands of contract workers.
The general strike began Wednesday at 6 a.m., shutting down basic services including government offices, banks, trains, higher education institutions and – briefly at the beginning – Ben-Gurion 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 becomes effective 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 fulltime workers will move into fulltime employment nine months into their contracts.
About 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.
Arad first ordered the sides to negotiate after allowing the Histadrut to hold a four-hour strike on November 7.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised the agreement, saying it helps fix “an injustice of many years.”
“I congratulate Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini on coming to an agreement that greatly improves the wages and working conditions of contract workers,” he said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich congratulated the Histadrut on its accomplishments, saying conditions have been improved for hundreds of workers.
“It cannot be that the Histadrut is the only element fighting for the contract workers,” she said. “The responsibility for stopping this cruel, ugly phenomenon rests on the government’s and the Knesset’s shoulders.”
Yacimovich blamed a “wild economic approach,” which she said takes advantage of the weak as much as possible.
“Until a social-democratic government is elected, contract work – one of the most serious problems in Israeli society – will not end,” she said.
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. Labor laws should be better enforced, he said, adding that government offices should only practice direct employment, opposed to hiring contract workers.
Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce president Uriel Lynn, who heads the largest organization representing the business sector, congratulated Steinitz and his staff for “seeing the complete global picture” and not giving in to the Histadrut’s demands to move all contract workers into direct employment.
However, he slammed the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations for its deal with the Histadrut, saying it did not take the economy into account and had failed in its duty to defend the business sector.
National Union of Israeli Students chairman Itzik Shmuli said the practice of using contract workers could not be eradicated overnight. But he praised the agreement as a step that would significantly improve the situation of contract workers.
Joanna Paraszczuk and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.