General strike continues into third day

National Labor Court orders sides to continue talks over the employment status of contract workers before reporting back.

Demonstration in front of Labor Court 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Demonstration in front of Labor Court 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Histadrut’s general strike over the employment status of contract workers continued into its third day on Friday, following the breakdown of negotiations between the labor federation’s chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz late Thursday night.
National Labor Court President Nili Arad held a brief hearing around 9 p.m., where representatives for both sides reported on the status of negotiations.
Arad ordered them to continue their talks on Friday, and to report back to her at 3 p.m.
In ruling that the strike could continue Friday, Judge Arad ordered that Ben Gurion Airport and all the country's ports would operate as normal.
In her ruling, made at 10.30 p.m. Thursday night, Arad said that both sides reported making "real progress" in their negotiations, and congratulated the Treasury and the Histadrut. However, the judge said, the parties said there remained several differences that needed to be resolved.
If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement over the weekend to end the conflict, Arad ordered that they must file detailed, written arguments to the court by 10 a.m. Sunday. At that stage, Arad said the court would make a decision regarding whether or not to issue injunctions to terminate the strike.
Arad said that in the light of the sincere efforts made by both sides, they should continue to work to reach a peaceable end to the conflict.
The open-ended general strike began Wednesday at 6 a.m., shutting down basic services including government offices, banks, trains and higher education institutions.
Staff at Ben-Gurion Airport participated in the first six hours of the job-action, before being ordered back to work by Arad.
Arad lifted a three-month injunction on the strike last week, saying at the time that there was no choice but to declare that the Histadrut’s negotiations with the Finance Ministry and the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, which represents employers, had reached a deadlock.
Eini and Steinitz spent most of Thursday locked in direct discussion, but two stumbling blocks remained. One was Eini’s demand that contract workers whose jobs mirror those of directly employed workers also be transferred to direct employment. The other was Steinitz’s demand that the Histadrut promise not to declare another industrial dispute for at least four years.
Steinitz had apparently already agreed to Eini’s demand that some cleaning workers be moved to direct employment, and that the minimum wage be increased from NIS 4,100 to NIS 4,500 a month.
Eini told Channel 2 News just before entering the courtroom that he would not give up on his remaining demand.
He added that if Steinitz did not give up on his, “this dispute will not end and neither will the strike.”
To add to the confusion surrounding the negotiations, conflicting messages were conveyed to the media throughout the day on how close the two men actually were to an agreement. At 1 p.m., the Finance Ministry said it expected them to sign a deal before 4, and even invited press photographers to witness it. By 8 p.m., it seemed even the spokespeople for the two men could not keep track, with the Histadrut declaring the meeting over at the same time as the Finance Ministry maintained it was continuing.
Thursday night’s labor court hearing came after the Treasury and the Histadrut sent a joint message to Arad earlier on Thursday afternoon, in which they announced that their legal teams were within hours of putting together a final document setting out their shared principles.
Also Thursday afternoon, Histadrut representatives told Arad that they had signed a general collective agreement with the Federation of Economic Organizations regarding the main issues of the dispute.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the largest organization representing the business sector, set out its position in response to the ongoing Histadrut- Finance Ministry talks.
FICC president attorney Uriel Lynn said his organization opposed legally enforced direct employment, and that employers should be able to agree to direct employment voluntarily.
Lynn said the right way to improve contract workers’ conditions was via wide-ranging agreements over basic rights, including the minimum wage and other social benefits. Agreements should be made with each industry sector, Lynn said, and added that mandatory pension agreements for employees are already in place.
Early Thursday morning, following a night of intensive negotiations between the Treasury and Histadrut, Arad ruled that the strike could continue throughout the day while the sides continued their talks.
“The court urges the parties once again to do everything necessary to reach an agreement and end the conflict in a peaceable manner,” she said at the time.