No agreement after all-night talks: general strike begins

Histadrut, Treasury meet up until 6 a.m. deadline, say progress made but not enough to prevent strike that shuts down gov't offices, institutions of higher education, banks and trains.

Histadrut Chairman Eini and Finance Minister Steinitz 311 (photo credit: Reuters and Channel 10)
Histadrut Chairman Eini and Finance Minister Steinitz 311
(photo credit: Reuters and Channel 10)
An open-ended general strike began Wednesday at 6 a.m after all-night negotiations between the Histadrut and the Treasury over the employment status of contract workers failed to produce a breakthrough. The Finance Ministry raised hope early Wednesday morning that a strike could be averted by offering an additional NIS 200 million for a budget aimed at improving the conditions of contract workers. Although Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini said that the offer represented progress, he did not say if he had accepted it.
Click here for a full list of the services that will be suspended as part of the general strike.
Eini said Wednesday that the general strike could end with the intervention of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Given Steinitz's determined opposition to adding his name to a Histadrut agreement with Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations chairman Shraga Brosh, Eini said, Netanyahu should give an "in principal"  endorsement to the agreement .
"If the PM agrees, the strike will end," Eini said.
The Brosh agreement includes a partial transfer of cleaning workers to direct employment, transfer of contract workers whose jobs mirror directly employed workers into direct employment and giving full worker's rights to those who remain as contract workers.
The Finance Ministry said in a statement that progress resulted from its offer to add "hundreds of millions of shekels to improve the wages and conditions of [contract] workers."
"Unfortunately, the Histadrut is entrenched in its position that is likely to drag Israel into an unnecessary strike that will cost the economy billions of shekels," the statement said.
The issues at hand, it added, are complex and require in-depth discussions "in order to strike the right balance between improving wages and conditions for workers and maintaining the Israeli economy."
Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz were expected to meet again at 2 p.m. at the National Labor Court in another effort to end the months-long dispute over contract workers.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a plea late on Tuesday for Eini to call off the strike, saying the economy was in “a delicate situation” and that it was not the right time to risk stability achieved through cooperation between the government and the Histadrut.
“A strike will not solve the problem of contract workers,” Netanyahu said. “It is possible to improve the conditions of contract workers without shutting down the economy and disrupting citizens’ lives. There is no magic solution to the employment problems that have been created here over decades; it is possible to resolve the issue through dialogue.”
The strike will shut down basic services, including government offices, institutions of higher education and banks. Public hospitals will operate according to Shabbat timetables. Staff at Ben-Gurion Airport will strike between 6 a.m. and noon. Train services will stop completely, but Egged and Dan buses will continue to operate.
The economy will lose NIS 400 million each week that the strike is allowed to continue, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC).
On Tuesday afternoon, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition from the FICC to issue an injunction against the strike. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Uzi Vogelman made the decision behind closed doors in response to the petition that was submitted on Monday. National Labor Court President Nili Arad lifted an injunction against the strike last week, saying there had been no choice but to declare that negotiations had reached a deadlock. Arad first ordered the Histadrut, Treasury and employers to conduct talks after allowing the labor federation to hold a four-hour strike on November 7.
Nadav Shemer contributed to this report.