Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson made their way to the National Labor Court on Wednesday evening for a hearing aimed at resolving the dispute that led to a general strike in the public sector called by the Histadrut. For a list of services affected by the strike, click here. Histadrut Hotline: 1-700-700-331 The court began on Wednesday afternoon addressing the petitions of the Manufacturers Association and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC), who appealed to the court to order an end to the strike and to invite all relevant parties to an urgent discussion on the matter.
Over 5,000 religious council workers join strike
Earlier, Judge Steve Adler called on Hirchson and Eini to personally appear at the hearing instead of merely sending representatives.
Instead, Eini and Hirchshon appeared in a heated discussion on Channel 2 News in which Hirchson urged the Histadrut chairman to return to the negotiating table.
Eini responded by demanding that the Finance Ministry fork out the necessary funds to pay masses of unpaid government workers.
The Manufacturers Association estimated that the strike would cost the economy NIS 500m. per day, Israel Radio reported.
At Ben-Gurion airport, flights were being allowed to land, but passengers were not receiving their luggage.
However, exceptions were made for the basketball team from Ljubljana that has come to play Maccabi Tel Aviv as well as for Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman who arrived via private plane.
An exception was also made for the families of the kidnapped IDF soldiers who were set to return from Brussels where they participated in a rally in front of the EU parliament in an effort to expedite the efforts to bring about the release of the soldiers.
The Histadrut labor federation general public-sector strike began at 6 a.m. Wednesday, shutting down all government offices and bringing outgoing traffic at the country's airports and seaports to a halt.
Eini held a meeting late Tuesday night with Hirchson and Bar-On in an attempt to avert the strike, but no progress was made.
Jerusalem Histadrut head Daniel Ben-Sheetrit told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that "He [Eini] is doing a very good job for the workers"
"We can't trust him [Hirchson] because he didn't follow through with the September 20th deal. Of course the strike will hurt the economy. Nobody likes striking, but it is now the government's responsibility," he said.
Despite the declaration of a general strike, there were still a few who defied it. Some Interior Ministry offices initially refused to join the strike and opened to the public as usual Wednesday morning, Army Radio reported.
However, by midday, head of the civil servants union, Ariel Yaakobi, had shut down those offices, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, as well.
According to the Histadrut, 81 local authorities and 13 religious councils have failed to pay employees or transfer money to pension funds for months, affecting at least 40,000 workers. The Histadrut estimates a total of NIS 1 billion is owed.
The government is arguing that poor planning and mismanagement by regional councils led them to near bankruptcy far beyond the annual budget allocation.
The Ministry of Defense, Israel Lands Administration, Employment Service, National Insurance Institute, Bank of Israel, Tax Authority, courts and religious councils have all joined the strike.
The Postal Company said that while there was no mail delivery during the strike, its post offices were open as usual. Its messenger service, 171 information line, express mail and export service were also functioning normally.
Train service is frozen but Dan and Egged buses are operating. Banks, health services, Magen David Adom, and Mekorot - the water company - are expected to work as usual but Bezeq will have no operator service and operate in Shabbat-mode, as will Israel Electric, except in emergencies. Schools are expected to operate as usual.
Speaking at a Ma'ariv conference earlier Tuesday, Hirchson urged Eini to allow a few more days to resolve the issues.
"I am aware of the problem in local government and I will call a meeting today together with Eini and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On in an effort to discuss the real extent of the problem and to find ways of solving the problem. We can solve the problem without causing hardship to our citizens," he said.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said Tuesday the private sector could not continue to pay for the failures of the public sector and urged Hirchson to solve the problem to protect the business sector and the economy.
This week, Eini sent a letter to Bar-On and Hirchson saying that he had decided to declare a strike after they failed to answer his calls for a solution to the crisis.
"I am not willingly calling a strike action," said Eini. "To avoid bringing labor relations to the brink, I allowed, in excess of legal requirements, a two-week extension to reach and sign a deal on the matter. But as no agreement has been signed, I have no choice but to inform you that the Histadrut will undertake industrial action in the coming days."
In September, the Finance Ministry averted a general strike over the unpaid wages of local authority and religious council employees and firefighters by promising they would be paid by the end of September.
Eini, Bar-On and Hirchson signed an agreement to transfer NIS 100 million. Nevertheless, the Histadrut says dozens of local authorities and religious authorities, and some municipal firefighters associations, have not been paid, while money due to be paid into pension and advanced training funds is also missing.
Simeon Cohen and Judy Siegel contributed to this report.