The Histadrut labor federation laid the groundwork Monday for an airlines strike, declaring a labor dispute at El Al, Arkia and Israir less than 24 hours after a seaport workers’ strike ended.The Histadrut said the declaration was made in response to the Civil Aviation Authority’s decision to sign an “Open Skies” agreement with the European Union. Such an agreement would allow any European airline to land in Israel from anywhere within the 27 EU member countries at any time. According to the Histadrut, neither party has consulted with workers on the impending deal. It claimed that if left in its current format, the agreement would damage the competitiveness of Israel’s aviation industry and put at risk the jobs of the 7,000 workers employed by El Al, Arkia and Israir and the 25,000 workers employed directly through the aviation sector.Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz responded immediately to the Histadrut declaration, saying he had instructed the Civil Aviation Authority earlier Monday not to sign an Open Skies deal before properly examining the ability of Israeli airlines to deal with it. The CAA, formerly known as the Civil Aviation Administration, was transformed into a statutory authority within the Transportation Ministry in 2005.An eventual agreement with the EU would increase competition, lower the cost of flights to consumers and increase the number of tourists to Israel, while also protecting the Israeli airlines, Katz said Monday during a meeting with the chief executives of El Al, Arkia and Israir.“As transportation minister I have the responsibility to ensure the strength of Israeli airlines,” he said. “This is how I acted when I approved El Al’s application to operate regular flights to Eilat alongside Arkia and Israir, and this is how I intend to act on the matter of Open Skies.”At a tourism conference in Eilat three weeks ago, El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi said the Open Skies agreement must be based on clear definitions, warning that if Israeli companies are not protected, it could cause the local aviation industry to collapse.This latest labor dispute follows a string of Histadrut-endorsed strikes that business groups estimate have cost the economy hundreds of millions of shekels. Workers at the Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat ports held a one-day strike over pension-related demands Sunday.Railway workers walked off the job for two days on February 13-14 to protest management’s use of outside contractors.A general strike was held February 8-12 over the employment status of contract workers in the public and private sectors.The Histadrut also declared labor disputes at the Israel National Roads Company, Educational Television (Channel 23) and the Petah Tikva Municipality on Monday, all of them in protest at the use of outside contractors.