Eini, Steinitz meeting ends without resolving differences

Steinitz agrees to employ caretakers for Holocaust survivors in the civil service; "intense meetings" to be held in the coming days.

Histadrut Chairman Eini and Finance Minister Steinitz 311 (photo credit: Reuters and Channel 10)
Histadrut Chairman Eini and Finance Minister Steinitz 311
(photo credit: Reuters and Channel 10)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini met Tuesday in the wake of the previous day’s brief general strike, but failed to resolve their differences over the employment status of contract workers.
In a joint statement, the two said the meeting was conducted in good spirit. Steinitz told the labor federation chairman of his decision to absorb Holocaust survivor care workers into the civil service. The two also agreed on the need for stronger enforcement of workers’ rights, but they emphasized that there was still disagreement between them over Eini’s demand that contract workers be transferred to direct employment.
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Senior Finance Ministry and Histadrut officials will meet over the coming days in an attempt to reach an agreement, the statement said. Representatives of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations and the Union of Local Authorities will be invited to the meetings.
A general strike that was expected to bring Israel to a grinding halt Monday was lifted after four hours, in compliance with a last-minute National Labor Court order. The Histadrut and Finance Ministry were ordered to submit written reports to the court by Thursday at 12 p.m. regarding the progress of negotiations.
The Histadrut called the strike because it said Finance Ministry officials were not responding to its demand that more than 100,000 contract workers be moved into direct employment. Steinitz and Finance Ministry officials have said they support improving the salaries and conditions of contract workers, but the Histadrut maintains that only a commitment to move them to direct employment will suffice.
Kadima MK and former finance minister Meir Sheetrit slammed the Histadrut on Tuesday, accusing the labor federation of itself using contract workers.
“The only party to blame for the phenomenon of contract workers is the Histadrut.
Inflexible employment regulations designed by the Histadrut have led employers to search for forms of employment that allow them more freedom,” Sheetrit said in a press statement.
“If an employer were able to fire a worker not doing their job or taking their job lightly, then there would not be such a large incentive to use contract workers. As a matter of fact, the Histadrut itself employs contract workers through its subsidiaries, which raises a question mark over its demands.”
Notwithstanding this, Sheetrit said labor laws needed to be changed dramatically, and accused the government of not doing enough to enforce the law and to protect the rights of workers whose employers take advantage of them.
“According to the law, an employer is obligated to grant tenure to an employee after nine months. This created twisted work relations in which workers are fired and then reemployed shortly afterward.
The law, which is designed to protect these workers, instead screws them,” he said.
“The law must be changed to extend that period to two or three years. That way, employers and employees will build a long-term relationship, which will allow the employer to get a better impression before granting permanent employment.”
The Knesset Economics Committee held a discussion on contract workers on Tuesday, which committee chairman Carmel Shama (Likud) said was meant to be a learning experience for MKs that are looking for solutions.
“Most of us heard the Finance Ministry say that the Histadrut’s solutions for contract workers would threaten the Israeli economy,” he said.
“As the chairman of this committee, I don’t know the facts or their significance, but I know that contract workers are in a bad situation, and are a stain on Israeli society.
“We need an immediate solution, not just something cosmetic and not a solution that will quiet the protesters.
We need a solution that everyone will feel,” Shama added.
“We should be embarrassed,” MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) said. “There are contract workers walking around us [in the Knesset], and we never asked if they have rights, how they feel or what they think.”
According to Hadash MK Dov Henin, “Israel has a world record for the amount of contract workers, which make up about 10 percent of the market.”
He recommended that the Knesset pass a law that would give companies that hire workers via contractors the same responsibilities as direct employers.