Yishai: Local authorities strike can be ended

Ending strike would allow talks with PMO toward presenting recommendations for solving Local Authorities' problems.

Trash piles up during Local Authorities strike 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Trash piles up during Local Authorities strike 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Local Authorities strike that began Monday will end at some point Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said. On Monday, Yishai's representatives met with the Union of Local Authorities and said progress had been made to end the strike. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, rejected the understandings reached, saying they would cost billions of shekels and calling the Local Authorities' demands "unrealistic."
The understanding on most issues, Yishai said Monday, included the freezing of "damaging legislation" and the cancellation of the 16 percent value-added tax on water.
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Ending the strike Tuesday will allow discussions with the Prime Minister's Office director-general with the aim of presenting recommendations to Netanyahu on solving the Local Authorities' problems within a month, Yishai told Israel Radio.
Yishai said that the understandings he reached with representatives of the Union of Local Authorities will not cost billions of shekels, as Netanyahu said Monday. The interior minister said that the demands of the local authorities are justified but that time is is needed to solve the problems.
A representative of the Union of Local Authorities said Monday that the strike would continue until Netanyahu approved the understanding reached between the sides.
The strike began Monday, bringing services by municipal workers to a halt. Those walking off the job included parking inspectors, school bus drivers, garbage collectors, welfare services staff, security guards at educational institutions and meat and fish inspectors.
Netanyahu called Monday night for the union to end its strike, and give four weeks to conduct negotiations. However, he said the government could not expand the state budget beyond the country’s means, referring to the global economic troubles that saw Standard & Poor’s downgrade the credit ratings of France and other EU members this week.
The Union of Local Authorities says it is protesting a recent decision to increase municipal property tax (arnona) rates against its wishes, as well as “populist laws and bills that direct money away from education, student safety, transport, the environment, welfare, culture and pensioners.” Its list of demands includes cancellation of the water tax, and the return of NIS 500 million to a section of the education budget reserved for local authorities.
The union said special institutions for disabled children would operate as usual on Tuesday, following criticism from Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon over their inclusion in the first day of the strike. An estimated 146,000 children with disabilities were stranded at home on Monday.
“While I support the freedom for workers to take strike action, children with disabilities should not be part of this game,” said Kahlon, who was speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem showcasing the programs his ministry provides for the country’s poorest sectors.
The strike was expected to continue Tuesday, but without the participation of Likud-led cities such as Netanya, Modi’in and Nazareth Illit.
Nazareth Illit mayor Shimon Gabso said at a Likud meeting Monday that mayors affiliated to the party would end their participation in the strike should the union refuse a request from Netanyahu to discuss its main concerns.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich both backed the strike during their respective party meetings on Monday.
Livni said the mayors were staging the strike not to protect their own rights, but rather to protect their duty to serve their residents. Yacimovich said the government was abandoning local authorities, which “are not some trivial sector, but rather part of the state itself.”
Former journalist Yair Lapid, who is forming a political party, said the cause behind the strike was just, but that the strike itself was not. The mayors are correct because Yishai’s arnona program is “populist and damaging,” and is designed to obtain property tax exemptions for his own haredi (ultra-Orthodox) constituency, Lapid said.
But he added that the strike would cost the economy NIS 2.3 billion each day, and urged the Union of Local Authorities to give the prime minister a chance to meet their demands.
Nadav Shemer, Ruth Eglash and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.