The Israel Broadcasting Authority, after seemingly endless years of struggle, has finally signed what it considers to be a historic agreement that will pave the way for a reform of its operations. The agreement, signed Sunday by the IBA, the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut, provides for a dramatic cut of several hundred employees from the IBA payroll over a three-year period. Under the contract, employees will be offered enhanced severance conditions as incentive to leave of their own volition. The more employees who leave voluntarily, the fewer will need to be forcibly dismissed. The agreement is the first of three that will encompass the reform program. Over the next three months, the IBA plans to reach an agreement with the various workers' unions on the issues of dismissals and new work rules that are an integral part of the reform plan. The Finance Ministry will provide the funding necessary to implement the reforms, based on a business plan the IBA has already submitted. With the money it will save on salaries, the IBA will be able to channel funding towards original Israeli productions and the installation of new technology to replace the existing systems that have been obsolete for years. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who was responsible for implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Law, welcomed the signing of the agreement, calling it an important breakthrough. As someone who had been involved in the battle for reform, he said, he was happy to be able to complete his tenure on such a high note, because he strongly believes in the importance of public broadcasting in a democratic society. Without the reforms, the IBA was in danger of collapse, as the Finance Ministry had indicated that it would cut off the broadcaster's funding. The IBA has suffered from severe deficits for several years now, and the Finance Ministry had lost patience with management's inability to reach an accommodation with the workers unions that would enable staff reductions.