Bar-On: General strike is unjustified

Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said Tuesday that a general strike was unjustified. He also claimed the figures quoted by Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini regarding the unpaid workers' salaries were incorrect. "Only 625 workers have not received their wages, in contrast to the Histadrut's claim that the figure is more than 3,000," he told a press conference. Bar-On also said that over the past four months, the government had transferred NIS 170 million to pay local authority workers' salaries. Interior Ministry Director-General Ram Belnikov told the Knesset Interior Committee on Tuesday morning that local authorities were "greatly distorting" and "fictionalizing" their complaints. "We have paid all of those that we could. In the 10 cases, the only 10 cases of local authorities that remain unpaid, we have serious legal issues that need to be resolved," Belnikov said. Roughly 600 workers will be left without pay by Wednesday, he said. Committee Chairman Ophir Paz-Pines acknowledged that the status of the 10 councils was clearly "very complicated," but that those communities had long standing difficulties with the Finance Ministry and their situations were not "new enough to warrant these types of problems." Belnikov said the municipalities had consistently failed to collect municipal taxes and other basic utility rates from their residents. "There are shady, very confusing dealings going on with these cities that we are trying to sort through," he said. Representatives of the communities in question said that in most cases, they had inherited serious debts from their predecessors, and that they had tried to cooperate with the Finance Ministry to clear up misunderstandings about the funds owed to the local authorities. The committee was set to vote over how to proceed when Paz-Pines received a note asking him not to conduct a vote on the issue. He declined to say who had written the note. Meanwhile, Israel Airports Authority Director-General Gabi Ofir asked Eini on Tuesday to exclude Ben-Gurion Airport from the strike since "Pessah is approaching, and a strike might hurt Israeli tourism, agriculture, the passengers and Israel's image." As a palliative measure, Ofir authorized the rescheduling of some flights from Wednesday to Tuesday night.