By RON FRIEDMAN
The Histadrut, Israel's largest labor union, is downplaying claims that the country is currently undergoing a wave of strikes in the public sector. But, with Water Authority workers entering their sixth week of strikes, Employment Services workers on strike for a week and a spattering of solidarity strikes in other public institutions, the pressure is on.
"It's nothing. The media is blowing things way out of proportion," said Histadrut spokesman Eyal Malma, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The Water Authority workers have been on strike for a month and a half and the Finance Ministry has been ignoring them completely, so we decided to organize a calm and measured response to show them that we are in this together.
"Every day a different workers union will take a few hours to show solidarity with the Water Authority workers. The strikes are quiet and local. They last for half a day at most and immediately afterwards the workers return to work.
"We are trying to organize it so that the public is affected to a minimum degree. Characterizing this as anything else is nothing but a journalistic attempt to fan the flames."
During the last week, along with the Water Authority workers, who are in full strike mode, partial strikes were registered among the Tax and Customs Authority workers, the Rabbinical Courts officials and the Land Registry workers. On Thursday the auto-licensing workers will strike during the morning.
Water Authority workers union head Amir Shisha said he was grateful for the solidarity shown by the Histadrut and the other workers' unions. "I know that every day a different agency has been going on strike out of solidarity with us and I am very happy about it. I sincerely hope that it will lead the Finance Ministry to talk to us, listen to our claims and intervene in finding a solution," said Shisha.
The Water Authority strike came about as a result of ongoing tensions between management and the workers. Shisha said that the workers first filed grievances back in September, when the budget arrangement bill was passed, which resulted in additional responsibilities for the workers.
"Over the last three years since the authority was formed replacing the Water Commission, we have been piled on with a lot of extra work and responsibilities, but have received no additional compensation," said Shisha. "We were ready to go on strike back in September, but because we were at the heart of the national water crisis, we decided to wait with it.
"Today we are entering our sixth week of the strike and I'm sorry to say that the management isn't budging. We didn't receive our salaries on the first of the month, but we are strong and will remain steadfast in our demands."
The main advantage that the strikers thought they could leverage, the inability of the Water Authority to raise water prices without their cooperation, was dashed earlier this week when the management announced the reform without the workers' involvement. "They might have problems enforcing the increase without us, but they went behind our backs to pass the reform," said Shisha.
In recent days it has become apparent that another major strike is on the way, this time, in the private sector. Workers of the gas station chain Sonol, demonstrated on Tuesday against their management claiming they were not allowing them to form a union. Hundreds of employees blocked the entrance to the company's station at the Glilot junction at the entrance to Tel Aviv, fighting with police forces and shouting at drivers "Don't fuel-up here!"
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