Israel's union boss threatens strike over budget

Netanyahu at Knesset meeting marking Hertzel's 153rd birthday: Strikes would not dissuade him from economic reforms.

Histadrut chair Ofer Eini at Labor Court_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Histadrut chair Ofer Eini at Labor Court_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini threatened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday with a general strike over expected budget cuts that could cut workers’ pay.
“Should our request not be immediately complied with, we intend to use all possible means at our disposal in order to protect the rights of the workers and prevent harm to the public workers and retirees,” Eini wrote in a letter to Netanyahu and Lapid, demanding that they immediately include him in budget negotiations.
“The budget proposal contains tough economic cuts that will hurt the economic condition of the public workers and the retirees, a public struggling under a heavy burden that includes the middle class as well as the lower class,” he wrote.
On Tuesday night, Lapid said he was prepared for “war” over the budget, specifically saying he would reconsider “ancient agreements,” a reference to the collective wage agreements signed by previous governments with the Histadrut.
Responding during a speech at the Knesset to mark Herzl Day, Netanyahu said he would not be cowed by strikes and promised to move forward with economic reforms.
“Following the cellular and open skies [reforms], next week we will bring reforms to cheapen private cars in Israel and after that, will come a huge reform at the Israeli ports and then we will cheapen a variety of products,” he said.“Let me stress: No strike will deter us,” he continued. “It’s impossible to build a strong economy without increasing competition.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich decried Netanyahu’s agenda, saying that today’s economic realities were far from Herzl’s vision of free education and a strong welfare state.
“Yes, I know the worldview that believes the state should be run like a business, and neglects the people, and produces unbearable inequality among them, and sows discord between the nation’s groups, and cuts more and more from the nation and sheds more and more responsibility to its citizens,” she said. “It’s almost always accompanied by pompous slogans and lofty rhetoric from those that carry it out.”
Federation of Israeli Chambers Of Commerce President Uriel Lynn slammed the Histadrut over the threats, saying, “apparently Eini has forgotten that he represents organized labor and is not part of the elected bodies that bear responsibility for the general public, to shape the economic program that will determine the future of this country.”
“Eini forgets that according to our democratic process, the ones with responsibility are the elected bodies: the government and the Knesset,” Lynn said.
But the Histadrut was not the only group pulling out knives to protect its interests.
On a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon spoke out against cuts to the defense budgets.
“We live in the Middle East, the world’s biggest playground for terror,” he said. “Every cut will directly harm, due to complex constraints, the local industry that lives off defense manufacturing and will lead to the closure of dozens of factories.”
Danon estimated that cuts would lead to NIS 4 billion worth of security export losses.
“Irresponsible cuts to the defense budget will harm Israel’s security and the livelihood of thousands of families,” he added.
In Tel Aviv, leaders of various farming and agricultural unions gathered for an emergency meeting to coordinate protests against the plans to cancel the VAT exemption on fruits and vegetables.
The Knesset Finance Committee decision to make permanent a near-doubling of beer taxes (from NIS 2.15 to NIS 4.15 per liter) elicited the ire of the Israel Manufacturer’s Association, which said the tax would unfairly burden Israel’s local beer manufacturers and lead to a 10 percent drop in consumption, worth some NIS 170 million.
“This is an absurd decision that goes against the interests of the State of Israel,” said Itzik Tamir, who chairs the association’s food branch, adding “the increased beer tax will only harm thousands of workers in the Israeli beer industry, most of them in the periphery, and encourage youth to consume cheap liquor.”
The committee also failed to carve out an exemption for Israeli microbreweries, who said the tax would decimate their businesses.
“Whenever there are changes, the sectors that are hurt are going to try to fight for their benefits,” said Amir Gil, a senior investment manager at the Psagot investment house.
But all in all, he says he’s optimistic, because in dealing with the budget deficit, “in the long run, the government is doing the correct things.”