Histadrut threatens general strike

Union demands contract workers be directly employed; Histadrut criticizes Trajtenberg's legitimization of continued public sector contracting.

Labor strike picket signs 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Labor strike picket signs 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The Histadrut labor federation declared a general labor dispute on Tuesday, demanding that as many contract workers as possible be moved to direct employment under individual or collective agreements.
The move means the Histadrut can declare a general strike in two weeks.
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Following publication of the Trajtenberg Report on Socioeconomic Change – whose recommendations were approved by the cabinet on Sunday – the Histadrut criticized its legitimization of continued public sector contracting, saying this makes it easier to deprive workers of their basic rights.
“Something happened in the summer of 2011,” Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said at a press conference on Tuesday morning. “The entire public went out into the streets under the slogan of ‘social justice.’ In my view, there cannot be social justice without dealing with the issue of contract workers.”
Eini continued: “The protest movement created the platform required for a struggle like this one. We couldn’t have done it if not for the public’s comprehensive support. The people who went out into the streets put the wind at our back and gave us the strength to correct a decades-old historical injustice.
“Dozens of different forms of employment have been used over the past decade that are not direct but rather use middlemen who collect commissions at the expense of the weaker workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers are being exploited. This is basically a slave trade,” he said.
Eini said many ministers and members of Knesset had given their support to his demands in the past few days, and questioned why the government had done nothing on the issue. He called on the cabinet to open a discussion about the use of contract workers in order to find a solution to the problem.
Shortly before Eini’s announcement, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio that the Histadrut chief must act responsibly.
“Ofer Eini was a very important partner to economic package deals over the past two-and-a-half years, which were made against the backdrop of the terrible global economic crisis. Up until today Eini has known how to be a level-headed and responsible leader,” Steinitz said.
The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said it would petition the National Labor Court to prevent the Histadrut from going ahead with the planned strike.
A large part of the work done in the economy is either temporary or part-time, and therefore it would be impossible to have those jobs done by permanent employees, FICC president Uriel Lynn said in a statement. Rather than banning companies from outsourcing their employment, the focus should be on what conditions those contract workers receive, he said.
“Ofer Eini’s strike declaration is unjust. The motives are impure. From a legal point of view, this labor dispute is no reason for a general strike. The issue Eini is attacking – employment structure – requires a deep and detailed discussion and not a threat to use force,” Lynn said.
“This is an example of hypocrisy. In fact, the publication yesterday [by the Finance Ministry] of who robs money from the public in the sectors for which Eini is responsible, proves that he is leading the injustice in Israel,” he said.
The Finance Ministry’s director of wages on Monday published his 2010 report on state and public sector wages.
The average wage of people employed by the state rose 7 percent to NIS 13,630 a month, while the average wage of public sector employees rose 3.5 percent to NIS 7,885.
Also on Tuesday, the Coordinating Forum of Junior Academic Staff Associations in Israel announced that it would strike on the first day of the new academic year, October 30, over opposition to the employment of young lecturers on a contract basis. The forum demanded that NIS 60 million be budgeted toward changing their employment conditions