Katz, Eini battle over future of Israel Railways

Transportation minister and Histadrut chief lock horns as possibility of another train strike remains.

Malcha train station empty 390  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Malcha train station empty 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The possibility of another train strike remains, after two weeks of negotiations over the future of Israel Railways ended with a war of words between Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini.
Katz announced the creation Monday of three new subsidiary companies to the independent government-owned corporation – dealing with maintenance, real estate and cargo – which he said would divide work among them. Eini immediately rejected the move as “foolish” and “irresponsible.”
The announcement came one day after the Israel Railways Workers Committee rejected a government offer to transfer ticket sellers from contract work into direct employment, increase wages by 25 percent, and deliver additional grants of NIS 40,000 to each employee.
The Tel Aviv Labor Court placed a two-week injunction on a rail strike February 20, ordering rail workers, the Histadrut, the Transportation Ministry and Israel Railways to return to negotiations over Israel Railways’ disputed outsourcing deal with Canadian company Bombardier Transportation.
As no agreement was reached in the allotted period, rail workers are now able to stage a limited strike and Israel Railways is permitted to go ahead with the Bombardier deal.
Katz said at a press conference Monday that Israel Railways would implement the deal immediately, and outlined the plan for the three subsidiaries – which will be established with help from the private sector while Israel Railways maintains 51% of ownership.
The transportation minister praised Eini for his cooperation in negotiations, and blamed Israel Railways Workers Committee chairwoman Gila Edrai for vetoing every proposal made during the two weeks of negotiations.
“If the workers decide to strike this time as well, I will instruct the closure and recreation of the company so that there will not be a situation of a small minority holding the wider public hostage,” he added.
But Eini rejected Katz’s version of events, saying in a statement to the press later Monday that although progress had been made during the negotiations, he himself had never agreed to any of the government’s proposals.
Accusing Katz of trying to tempt the railway workers into launching another strike that would hurt their public credibility, Eini said, “The Histadrut does not intend to fall for Katz’s trap, but rather to act responsibly for the good of train passengers and the railway workers.”
Joanna Paraszczuk, Oren Kessler and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.