Port strike ends as contracts signed with new operators

Israel Chemicals and Histadrut labor federation end 115-day dispute on layoffs.

A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of the northern city of Haifa (photo credit: REUTERS)
A worker sits as a crane unloads containers from a ship at the port of the northern city of Haifa
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Port workers ended a two-day strike that defied a court order Thursday as Transportation Minister Israel Katz signed contracts with operators for the two new competing ports that incensed unions. Meanwhile, a 115-day labor dispute between the Histadrut labor federation and Israel Chemicals drew to a close after the sides reached a compromise on layoffs.
Since plans to build competing ports in Haifa and Ashdod were announced two years ago, there have been intermittent labor actions from unions concerned the competition will affect them.
Thursday’s signing ceremony, which brought on Dutchbased company Terminal Investment Ltd. to operate Ashdod’s South Port Terminal and China’s Shanghai International Port Group for Haifa’s Bay Port Terminal, was the latest advance in the port reform that policymakers say will help bring down the cost of the many Israeli goods that enter the country by sea. That extra efficiency, they argue, will help bring down the cost of living.
Some 2,400 workers at the ports embarked on a strike on Wednesday, and refused to man their posts even when two labor courts ordered the strike to end. Union leaders reportedly went underground, while 40 ships were stuck at quays or off the coast waiting to be unloaded. The Histadrut urged them to comply to no avail.
The Manufacturers Association of Israel estimated that the strike cost the economy NIS 75 million a day.
“Unfortunately, this is not a rare event, but regular and improper conduct,” said MAI president Shraga Brosh, describing the economic damage from rotting food, delays in delivery of raw materials, and reputation loss for manufacturers who cannot fill orders as a result of the strike.
At the signing ceremony in Tel Aviv earlier in the day, Katz warned that “this time, the workers have made a significant mistake,” and threatened to declare a state of emergency and take legal action against them if they did not end the sanctions. When the NIS 10b. port reforms were first announced, the ministry drew up contingency plans for operating them with the help of the army and external companies in the case of a prolonged strike.
Unusually, Katz went out of his way to praise former finance minister Yair Lapid, now in the opposition, for his work advancing the agenda while in office.
After 115 days of disputes that “shut down the South” and nearly halted all government activity in that region just days before March’s general election, Israel Chemicals and the Histadrut announced a compromise on intended layoffs.
The sides, which announced the deal at Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv Thursday night, still resulted in 140 workers – the original amount – losing their jobs, but on better terms.
ICL agreed to give 100 workers early retirement and lay off just 40 at increased salaries, according to Channel 10, but even those would be put off until the end of the year. Laid-off workers would receive severance packages ranging from three to four times the standard amounts, according to TheMarker.
The agreement was said to significantly reduce the total number of layoffs ICL had planned as part of a broad efficiency program over the coming years.
Meanwhile, Israel Railways threatened to go on strike on Sunday, drawing threats from Katz to take legal actions.
Reuters contributed to this report.