State to petition court to stop strike

Interior minister: Figures quoted by Histadrut on unpaid salaries 'incorrect.'

ofer eini 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofer eini 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The State will ask the National Labor Court to issue a prevention order to stop the general public sector strike planned for Wednesday morning, Channel 10 reported on Tuesday night. Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini announced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that there would be a general public sector strike on Wednesday, starting at 6 a.m. Eini said that the crisis of the unpaid workers remained unresolved, emphasizing that 3,700 public sector employees had still not received their salaries. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On told a press conference that the general strike was unjustified. Bar-On also claimed that the figures quoted by Eini regarding the unpaid salaries in local municipalities were incorrect. "Only 625 workers have not received their wages, in contrast to the Histadrut's claim that the figure is over 3,000," he said. In response, Eini repeated his claim that 3,700 public sector employees had still not received their salaries. He said that the Histadrut did not want to call the strike, but it was forced to do so following the government's mismanagement of the issue. Eini stressed that the Prime Minister's Office must provide written proof to the Histadrut that the bank was transferring money to the local authorities and that "if the government fulfils its obligations, the Histadrut will then consider its next steps." The strike will include Ben Gurion Airport, government offices, local municipalities, Israel Railways and National Insurance. Schools will continue to run as normal. Click here to see a full list of who is set to strike. "We have waited patiently for three weeks," said Eini upon announcing the strike. "The issue was raised in the cabinet, but at this moment in time, unfortunately, there is no solution. Tomorrow morning at six, a general public sector strike will commence," he said, adding, "I want to apologize to the members of the public on whom we forced harm. It is not my intention." Eini said he was determined that there would not be a situation in which even one worker remained unpaid. He went on to say that he would continue to exert pressure on the prime minister to solve the problem of withheld pension and retirement payments. The announcement came despite the earlier promise by Bar-On that by 5.p.m Tuesday salaries would be paid to a majority of local municipality employees, excluding those employed by municipalities that had amassed high financial losses. "We will transfer (money) to those authorities eligible to receive wages, except for 6 or 7 local authorities whom we informed from the outset that there would be no solution," Bar-On had announced. During Tuesday's press conference, Eini went on to say that one of the unpaid workers had called him earlier in the day and urged him to announce a strike. "The worker told me: 'we have no one to turn to. The court has not solved our problem. No one has solved our problem. Hold a strike in order to restore our honor,'" said Eini. Earlier Tuesday, as the country awaited the verdict on the general strike, Interior Ministry Director-General Ram Belinkov said that he was considering laying off local authority heads who were withholding the salaries of their workers and running their cities in a financially irresponsible manner, Army Radio reported. Before the strike was announced, Histadrut spokesman Eyal Malma said the union had done everything it could to help Prime Minister Ehud Olmert keep the promise he made three weeks ago: "The prime minister promised that the [unpaid salaries] problem would be solved in a few days but today, on the eve of Pessah, 36 local councils and 18 religious councils are still withholding their employees' salaries. We demand that the problem be behind us by March 20, and that the prime minister keep his word." If there is a strike, Malma said, it will be severe and comprehensive. Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, threatened to ask the National Labor Court for an injunction stopping the strike. "There is always a need to check who suffers the most as a result of a strike, and in this case the public and the business sector will be affected the most. It is absurd that those who pay taxes to the local councils be hurt by the failed management of these mayors and local council heads," Lynn said. He said he identified with the suffering of the 5,500 workers who had not been paid for February. "However, perhaps the solution is not a broad public sector strike. Not every injustice justifies the use of the strike weapon," Lynn said. He called on Bar-On and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson to prevent the strike by appointing oversight committees for those local councils that have failed to pay their workers. "It has been proven that local councils that have started a [financial] recovery process have continued to delay paying their workers' salaries. Instead of improving their financial management, they have developed a bad habit of depending on the state budget and hurting the taxpayers," Lynn said. A Histadrut spokesman said England's national soccer team would be allowed to land at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday, ahead of Saturday night's Euro 2008 qualifying match against Israel at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, but that there would be no concessions to allow the estimated 3,500 England fans to arrive.