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Opposition leader and Labor party head Avi Gabbay (left) meets with Negev Ceramics workers and the mayor on Sunday in Yeroham..(Photo by: COURTESY OF AVI GABBAY)
Labor court freezes mass layoffs planned at Negev Ceramics
The fate of some 140 Israeli employees is hanging on the line.
The Regional Labor Court in Beersheba on Sunday ordered Negev Ceramics to postpone all layoffs until the end of the month, a temporary reprieve for the 140 workers who were expected to lose their jobs.

With the decision by Judge Shmuel Tenenbaum, all parties, including the Histradut labor federation, the local workers’ committee and Negev Ceramics management are to undertake intensive negotiations until October 30.

In the meantime, employees will continue to collect paychecks, a spokesman for the Histradut told The Jerusalem Post, though the factory, located in the southern town of Yeroham, will remain shuttered.

The company responded to the decision saying: “We welcome the decision of the judge who recognized the difficulties of the factory and decided to keep it closed.”

Negev Ceramics says it is losing NIS 2 million ($700,000) monthly by operating the plant, its only factory in Israel. The company produces and imports porcelain tiles for sale, with its imported goods costing a third of the price of locally produced merchandise. Just 15% of the company’s sales come from Israeli-made tiles.

“The problem is, what it will be like in the future,” Histradut spokesman Yaniv Levy said. “In Yeroham, there are a lot of problems to find work and open a new business. It’s a big problem. And now, the judge is going to check into why [management] is making it so much harder.”

Meanwhile, opposition leader Avi Gabbay (Labor) went to Yeroham to meet with Mayor Michael Biton and Negev Ceramics employees.

“I came to tell you, ‘Don’t be afraid,’” Gabbay said. “Closing the plant is a hard blow to Yeroham and we will stand by the workers… The reliance of hundreds of families on one enterprise, with no capability of finding alternative means of livelihood, time and time again leads hundreds of families to buckle.”

On Friday, workers arriving for their shifts were locked out by security guards and received dismissal letters. Until negotiations are completed and the next court hearing on October 30, those letters are rendered void.

“We don’t say, you must stay open and lose a lot of money,” Levy said, adding that the company keeps changing its layoff tally. “They spoke with us a few weeks ago and they wanted us to give them 40 people to lay off. And, now, on Friday, they want us to [more than triple that number and] lay off 140 people.”

Negev Ceramics employs some 700 people at 10 branches across the country. The company changed ownership in April after losing some NIS 500m. in recent years. Much of the losses are due to unprofitable operations in Yeroham.

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