Rail strike delayed by 2 weeks to allow more talks

Contentious outsourcing agreement won't be implemented during the negotiations, in which Katz, Eini will participate.

train 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
train 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel Railways, its employees and the Histadrut labor federation reached an agreement Monday to postpone a planned strike by two weeks to allow for additional negotiations over a contentious outsourcing deal signed by the rail operator a day earlier.
On Sunday night, rail workers sought permission from the Tel Aviv Labor Court to strike against Israel Railways’ agreement to outsource maintenance of train cars to Bombardier, the Canadian conglomerate that manufactures them.
If Israel Railways and its employees fail to reach an agreement over the coming two weeks, the court will permit workers to stage a limited strike and the rail carrier will be allowed to implement its outsourcing agreement.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz praised the decision to extend talks as a “last-ditch attempt to prevent the public from paying the price” for the labor dispute.
“The ball is in the Transportation Ministry’s court,” said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, adding that his organization’s goal “is not to put the trains on strike, but to operate them in a way that protects workers’ rights.”
Workers staged a short-lived strike last week amid news that Israel Railways planned to outsource the maintenance for 130 train cars to Bombardier. The National Labor Court issued an injunction last Tuesday ordering them to resume work just 24 hours after the strike had begun.
After the outsourcing deal was signed Sunday, railway employees board accused Katz of “declaring war on organized labor” and called on the court to cancel the agreement.
“We will continue the struggle against the introduction of contract workers with all available means,” the Histadrut said Monday morning. “We will not be deterred by the attempt to force the workers’ hand with heavy-handed [tactics].”
Ahead of this week’s Labor Court session, Katz had warned that if railway employees continued to strike, his ministry would not hesitate to shut down the train system. “I don’t want to shut down the train system,” he said. “But if this turns into a series of wild strikes and creates a situation in which the system can’t function properly, we won’t hesitate to close it and reopen it later.”
The agreement reached Monday stipulated that during the two weeks of negotiations, rail employees would agree not to take further labor action. It also said, however, that if no consensus is reached during that time, the agreement would be be considered null and void and the Histadrut would be able to organize another walkout.
Judge Efrat Laxer accepted the interim accord and praised both sides for showing a willingness to negotiate. “The court congratulates the Histadrut and the minister on their move to return to the negotiating table in an attempt to end the dispute via discussions, as is appropriate according to organized labor relations,” she said.
Laxer said that should no agreement be reached and rail workers decide to take industrial action, the strike must be “proportional” in its scope.
The decision to return to talks comes after the National Labor Court ruled late last year that Israel Railways must freeze its outsourcing agreement with Bombardier and return to negotiations with rail workers. The Histadrut and railways employee board have argued that the decision to contract out rolling stock maintenance to Bombardier would come at the expense of low-income employees in need of extra work hours.
Israel Railways insists the decision was made by the government, and the company is therefore unauthorized to enter into negotiations with workers over government policy.