'Strike will damage Israel's image more than war did'

Travel agents implore Histadrut not to include airport in planned shutdown; B-G manager authorizes extra outgoing flights ahead of strike.

civil strike 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
civil strike 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Israel Tourism & Travel Agents Association has appealed to the Histadrut Labor Federation not to include Ben-Gurion Airport in a general strike planned for Wednesday. ITTAA official Yossi Fatael told Israel Radio on Tuesday that an airport strike in peak tourism season would "damage Israel's image more than [last summer's war] did." According to Fatael, travel agents abroad have warned that an airport strike, that would leave thousands stranded, would lay to waste recent efforts to revive Israel's popularity as a tourist destination. In a move designed to minimize damage to travelers, Ben-Gurion Airport manager Zeev Sarig has authorized additional outgoing flights Tuesday night. Sarig has recommended that travelers contact their airlines for updated flight information. As tourism officials faced the specter of thousands of Israelis and tourists left stranded, Histadrut union heads were meeting Tuesday morning to determine the extent and dates of the planned public sector shutdown. Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini declared a general strike, to start as early as Wednesday, after last-ditch talks with Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On over public sector wages broke down Monday night. "Bar-On raised the ministry's offer from a 0.4 percent to a 1% salary increase, an addition of NIS 15, which is unacceptable and not serious. We had demanded a 10.4% wage increase for public sector employees retroactive from 2001," said the Histadrut. Following the meeting with Bar-On, the labor organization convened a meeting with union heads Monday night and decided to postpone the strike until after Tisha Be'av. On Tuesday morning, the Histadrut will reconvene to determine the date and extent of the strike. A general strike could encompass employees in government offices, the Bank of Israel, the postal service, some hospitals and government companies such as Israel Electric Corp., employees of former state companies, including Bezeq Ltd. and El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. Eini met with Bar-On late afternoon on Monday in a last effort to prevent a strike covering about 700,000 employees in light of the dead end reached in public sector wage talks over recent months. Israeli economic organizations and manufacturers warned on Monday that a general strike in the public sector would cost the economy NIS 800m. on the first day and that the daily damage would only expand if the labor unrest continued. "The business sector can not bear even a single hour of a strike," said Shraga Brosh, Chairman of the Federation of Economic Organizations and President of the Manufacturers Association of Israel. Brosh said the strike also would cause disruptions in electricity and fuel supplies, as well as slow down imports of raw materials due to the closure of the ports, which would shut down manufacturing lines. This, in turn, was likely to delay exports, which would require manufacturers to compensate customers, he said. Eini had instructed union heads to prepare for a general strike after a meeting with Treasury Wage Director Eli Cohen last week failed to bring the two closer to an agreement.