Eini’s strike

There are other, more effective, ways of coming to the aid of cleaners, security guards and others employed via contractors, even if they generate less media exposure for the Histadrut’s chairman.

Ofer Eini 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Ofer Eini 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
National Labor Court President Nili Arad had the presence of mind and wisdom to rein in Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini. The irresponsible union leader was set to launch an openended general strike which, according to Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association and chairman of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, would have caused about NIS 400 million a day in damages to the economy.
Instead, Arad issued a restraining order limiting the general strike to four hours yesterday, between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
She should have blocked the strike altogether.
True, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the plight of tens of thousands of cleaners and security guards – many of whom are new immigrants from Ethiopia or the Former Soviet Union – employed via manpower companies who lack basic social benefits or job security.
These “temps” are purposely hired on short-term contracts which are then repeatedly renewed year after year to prevent them from accruing seniority, or other basic social benefits reserved for permanent employees.
This phenomenon is rampant in both the public and private sectors and effects more than just cleaners and security guards. Indeed, hundreds of teachers, maintenance workers and others are also employed as temps through manpower companies.
But the solution is not a general strike. As Judge Arad noted in her decision, the Treasury has expressed a real willingness to sit down with labor leaders and find solutions.
Treasury Budget Director Gal Hershkovitz has admitted that existing labor laws need to be better enforced and that some workers presently employed via manpower companies could be employed directly, and included in collective-work agreements.
True, there is an ideological dispute between Treasury officials like Hershkovitz, who rightly argue that strong unions breed less productive workers, and Eini who has a vested interest in strengthening the Histadrut by unionizing workers employed by manpower companies. Ultimately, with a little goodwill and willingness to compromise – two traits which Eini, unfortunately, seems to lack – the differences could be bridged.
The phenomenon of employment through contractors is not new. It has been going on for at least two decades.
Why then has the Histadrut suddenly awoken to the plight of these workers? Part of the reason is the unprecedented rise in socioeconomic consciousness.
After this summer’s demonstrations, our society is especially sensitive to breaches in social justice. In this Zeitgeist, a general strike might come up against less public opposition. But Eini might also be motivated by personal interests.
With Histadrut chairmanship elections slated for May and the list of candidates expected to be finalized by January, Eini wants to consolidate his strength. And after being snubbed by the socioeconomic-protest leaders who rightly did not want to overtly politicize their struggle, Eini now seems desperate to prove his relevance.
While a general strike might be the quickest, easiest and most ostentatious way of garnering media attention and flexing the Histadrut’s muscles, there are other more effective ways of improving the lot of cleaners and security guards employed through contractors.
What would happen, for instance, if the heads of the strongest labor unions – say at the air and sea ports or at Israel Electric Company – insisted that the cleaners and security workers with whom they work every day receive better working conditions? What would happen if these unions put pressure on their managements to demand that manpower companies take a smaller cut and that outsourced workers get paid more? Would unionized workers with lucrative collective-work agreements be willing to give up some of their iron-clad job security – guaranteed regardless of performance – so that there would be less of a need for so many outsourced employees?
At a time when the European Union’s economy is in tatters, the Americans are struggling to make a comeback, and forecasts are widespread that our economy will likely be adversely affected by both, we cannot afford a superfluous and damaging general strike.
There are other, more effective, ways of coming to the aid of cleaners, security guards and others employed via contractors, even if they generate less media exposure for the Histadrut’s chairman.