'Financial help for workers in South needed'

Officials urge gov’t to formulate comprehensive compensation package for businesses, employees in rocket-scarred areas.

Damage from rocket attacks (photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias )
Damage from rocket attacks
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias )
Pressure mounted on the government to formulate a comprehensive financial compensation package for businesses and employees Monday, as terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at southern Israel for a fourth consecutive day.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz instructed Treasury officials late Monday afternoon not to subtract vacation days from public sector employees who stayed at home to look after their children following the cancellation of classes in specific areas. Steinitz also instructed his staff to find ways to assist parents employed in the private sector.
Earlier the same day, Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin – whose city has been among the hardest hit by the renewed violence – wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urging him to examine all possible forms of compensation for business owners who are suffering financially as a result of the security situation.
Small factories and store owners in shopping malls are among the worst affected so far, Vaknin wrote. He added: “While touring the city in recent days, I have heard of problems caused by fact that people are choosing not to leave their homes to do their shopping.
The financial impact has been felt immediately [by retailers], causing a large decrease in revenues.”
Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini called on Steinitz to establish a program similar to that implemented during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2009, which would compensate individuals who cannot reach their workplaces due to the security situation. Workers received full compensation from employers in those past instances, most of it funded by the Treasury.
“I hope the Finance Minister picks up the gauntlet this time as well, to ensure that these same workers do not suffer the double anguish of both rockets and damage to their livelihood,” Eini said. He added that working parents would be among those most negatively affected by the rocket attacks.
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Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich told Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich and Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri during a visit to the south that she would try to expedite passage of a bill to reimburse parents for days of work missed. Yacimovich and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said their planned bill would follow a format similar to that used during the Second Lebanon War – in which offices would receive 132.5 percent damages per worker to cover salaries and lost income.
In February, the government announced its plan to create a sovereign-wealth fund from future natural gas and oil royalties which will be used partly to provide loans as insurance in the event of war, economic crisis and other catastrophes.
But a majority of Knesset Finance Committee members – including Gafni – said at the time that they would oppose the plan on the grounds that it addresses security needs rather than social needs.
Also Monday, acting Tax Authority Director Doron Arbeli announced that residents of the rocket-affected areas would be given five extra days to make value added tax and early income tax payments. The new deadline for those residents is now March 20.
Meanwhile, the Export Institute is operating an emergency center in Tel Aviv for businesses which cannot function in their permanent headquarters.
According to the institute, southern Israel is home to 317 companies which export more than $50,000 worth of goods a year, and seven – including Intel, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Israel Chemicals – which export more than $100 million.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.