Airline strike ends as Treasury, El Al reach deal

Finance Ministry to absorb more security costs; Lapid: "Open Skies a done deal."

Ben Gurion Airport (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Ben Gurion Airport
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The Finance Ministry and El Al reached an agreement on Monday evening, ending the Israeli air carriers strike in its second day.
In staff-level meetings between the sides, the Finance Ministry agreed to raise its participation in airline security costs from 70 to 97.5 percent. El Al, which said that security cost it NIS 130 million each year, would be left paying about NIS 12.5m., according to Treasury figures.
“In ending the crisis the government has finally come to its senses and understood that it is in the national interest for the companies and their employees to be allowed to survive in the marketplace and receive fair treatment,” said Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini.
“It’s a shame it had to take a strike and protests and thousands of families had to be affected with fear and uncertainty in order to reach this conclusion, which we could have reached in practical negotiations.”
The ministry announced the deal an hour-and-a-half before the National Labor Court was set to rule on whether the strike – and the Histadrut’s order to shut down the airport starting Tuesday at 5 a.m. – could move forward.
The Manufacturer’s Association of Israel had issued an injunction to end the strike at the National Labor Court late Sunday night.
“The court must issue an order to employees not to disrupt work and to halt this strike immediately,” the association said. “The strike severely disrupts industry, which is reliant on export and import.”
In its own filing on the matter, the Histadrut excoriated the government’s Sunday decision to pass the Open Skies agreement, saying the cabinet had not properly discussed the deal, which the union claimed would lead to the collapse of Israel’s airline industry.
“The Histadrut regrets the discomfort caused to the plaintiff, as well as, primarily, the Israeli public and foreign tourists,” the labor union said. “However, this is a fight for existence, a war of necessity.”
The Histadrut’s exceptions committee approved two El Al flights Monday for humanitarian reasons, one from Paris carrying the bodies of a rabbi and the president of the deaf association for burial in Israel, and another from Berlin carrying employees of a pharmaceutical company so they could return to work manufacturing medication. On Sunday, it also approved three flights for similar extenuating circumstances.
Monday’s security agreement followed a day of political volleys as the Knesset reconvened for its summer session, and politicians came out in full force over the aviation issue.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid slammed the strike, saying it was “unnecessary from the beginning and it is still necessary now.”
“Open Skies is a done deal,” he said. “This is a good and appropriate agreement for the citizens of Israel, Israel’s economy and Israel’s tourism. The agreement will liberalize the aviation market in Israel, introducing more competition over the course of five years.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich backed the airlines, saying it was wrong to set Israeli companies against international competition “with their hands tied.”
El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi said the company respected the Israeli government and its decision to pass the agreement, but demanded that it deal with issues that “will allow fair and equal competition, chief among them the state’s full participation in the security expenditures of Israeli airlines.”
Lapid acknowledged that Israeli airlines face unique problems in paying for security, and ordered the Finance Ministry staff to search for solutions.
Labor faction leader MK Isaac Herzog accused Transportation Minister Israel Katz of not negotiating the Open Skies agreement transparently, saying he “tricked” the Knesset and the people of Israel.
“Ladies and gentlemen, airlines are not cellular companies,” he added, referring to the popular recent government reforms that successfully brought down mobile carrier prices.
On Sunday the Tourism Ministry said the Open Skies agreement would result in “an increase of 250,000 tourists from Europe during the first year of its operation. This means the creation of nearly 10,000 new jobs, a significant majority of them in the periphery.”
Labor MK Eitan Cabel invoked Ricki Cohen, the fictional archetypal middle class Israeli woman Lapid famously said he was fighting for at the Treasury.
“It is important for Ricki Cohen from Hadera to be able to get a cheap ticket for a vacation abroad, but it’s more important that Yossi Cohen, the El Al porter, has a job tomorrow,” Cabel said.
While competition is important, he continued, “it is absolutely unacceptable that the workers should be the ones that pay the price, even if the idea surrounding the reform is justified.”
He also noted that the skirmish was the opening salvo in the budget battle, in which the Histadrut has already opposed attempts to cut wages in collective agreements.
Meanwhile, the National Labor Court late on Monday night struck the case from its docket upon receiving word from the disputants that the issue was settled.
The court complimented the parties on arriving “peacefully at a solution to the dispute between them.” It also gave the agreement the legal status of a final judgment, formally binding on both sides.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.