IBA strike short-lived, but sanctions will continue

Shai: Strong public broadcaster ‘fundamental’ of democracy; Akunis: ‘Unacceptable’ to fire 2,000 people.

IBA protests Israel Broadcasting Authority 370 (photo credit: Arieh O’Sullivan)
IBA protests Israel Broadcasting Authority 370
(photo credit: Arieh O’Sullivan)
The strike by employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority came to an end just before mid-morning on Tuesday.
The strike, which had begun last Monday, consisted of the cessation of normal broadcasting on Israel Radio and Channel 1. Instead, there were announcements, in different languages, explaining the reason for the strike.
The strike had been imposed by the Engineers Union at the IBA, despite the fact that not all other IBA employees were in favor of it and voiced fears that it might work against them.
The strike had been called just a little over a week in advance of the opening matches in the soccer World Cup, for which the IBA has the broadcast rights. It was hoped that the threat of a blank television screen during the World Cup would persuade Communications Minister Gilad Erdan to compromise with the various unions within the IBA – whereby drastic reforms would be implemented, but not to the extent of dismantling the IBA and dismissing all its workers.
Erdan, however, made it clear that if the World Cup was not broadcast on Channel 1 and Israel Radio, he would find an alternative outlet.
While a protest demonstration by IBA workers was taking place outside the Finance Ministry on Monday, Erdan was meeting with Jerusalem Journalists Association chairman Hika Ginosar, Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissankoren and representatives of the Finance Ministry.
Ginosar and Nissankoren asked Erdan to revise the IBA bill that recently passed a first reading in the Knesset, saying that the wording of the bill, on top of the harm it does to the employees of the IBA, creates a strong impression that the intention is to do away with independent public broadcasting in Israel.
In a letter published on the Jerusalem Journalists Association website, Ginosar wrote that to his sorrow there was no breakthrough in the talks.
Among the demands that he and Nissankoren made was that the rights of current IBA employees be automatically transferred to any new entity – such as a new public broadcasting entity – so that they would not lose out on pensions and other benefits.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who supports Erdan’s bill, said that the best of the IBA workers will be employed in the new enterprise.
However, according to union representatives, no such undertaking has been given by Erdan.
Following this statement, workers have demanded to know who will judge who is worthy of being taken on board the new broadcasting network, and what the criteria for making any evaluations will be.
The previous agreement for reforms, which was signed by senior representatives of the Finance Ministry, called for the dismissal of some 700 IBA staff – with the stipulation that such dismissals be conducted in an “honorable and dignified manner” and that all those fired receive “reasonable” severance pay.
Ginosar and Nissankoren wanted this condition to be incorporated into Erdan’s bill.
The Histadrut is no less adamant on this score than the IBA’s in-house union representatives.
Until there is an agreement on this issue by Erdan, the government and the Knesset, said Ginosar, unions will continue to impose sanctions.
“We are fighting on two fronts” he said.
One is to preserve the professional and independent integrity of public broadcasting in Israel and the other is the right to maintain the professional identity and the rights of employment of each and every IBA worker, he said.
Although the Journalists Association and the Histadrut have functioned separately in past battles with the IBA and the Finance Ministry, for this very tough battle, said Ginosar, “we have joined forces.”
Ginosar called on journalists and technicians to put aside their differences and work together for the common cause.
Meanwhile, two members of Knesset, from opposite sides of the political spectrum, have called for the bill to be amended.
Its current content is brutal, said Likud MK Ofir Akunis, deputy minister in charge of liaison with the Knesset.
Akunis said that firing 2,000 people is unacceptable given that the Knesset saved Channel 10 from closure.
Channel 10, he added, has far fewer employees than the IBA.
Labor MK Nachman Shai, a former chairman of the IBA, said that a strong independent public broadcasting network is one of the fundamentals of any democratic administration.