Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened in the prosecutors' strike, and it ended after 43 very long days (No less than Netanyahu, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch also played a role in resolving it ).
Yesterday, Netanyahu again intervened in a monetary dispute, this one between local governments and the Finance Ministry (and the Interior Ministry ). And this time, he was able to prevent a strike at the 11th hour.
Is this proper procedure? Does the prime minister plan on intervening in every labor dispute from now on?
Yes, it is the prime minister's job to intervene in severe labor disputes, after everything possible has been done by the experts to prevent or resolve it. But there's a difference between the two disputes in which Netanyahu was involved. The prosecutors' strike went on and on, and all the experts, including the supervisor of wages in the Finance Ministry and the ministers of justice and finance, were unable to end it. Netanyahu was criticized more than once for not interevening. At first he sent his director general, Eyal Gabai, to try to bridge the gaps. The Supreme Court forced him to tackle the problem himself.
The prosecutors, whose average wage is among the highest in the public sector, received 4 percent above and beyond the highest increments paid in the public sector recently (to the social workers ) and that is just the beginning. The issue has now gone to arbitration.
Netanyahu won praise for ending the prosecutors' strike. No wonder he hurried to intervene in the local government dispute.
In the conflict with the local authorities, there was an absence of trust between the treasury and the local councils. This was evident at the meeting held Friday between the finance and interior ministers and the heads of the Union of Local Councils, when the interior minister came under such fierce attack that Steinitz had to intervene more than once to calm things down. The prime minister's intervention was clearly needed in this case.
Still, when it came to a real mega-dispute - the threat of the Histadrut labor federation six weeks ago to shut down the economy over their demand for a 9.5 percent wage increase - there was no need to summon the prime minister. That dispute was solved at a nighttime meeting between Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Steinitz, quietly, without a strike. Steinitz ended the dispute elegantly, with an acceptable 6.25 percent increase for public sector workers to be paid out in three stages.
Some people think Netanyahu's involvement in the two disputes was a mistake, because the prime minister is easily pressured. Those who say so point out that the wage disputes did not end early yesterday morning. The jurists have declared a labor dispute; they want more money, and so do the doctors and others. Should the prime minister intervene each time and give the strikers or the potential strikers what they want? Sometimes, like in the case of the Union of Local Councils, things should be allowed to take their course. The job of the prime minister is to guard the public coffers, not to give money to everyone who strikes or threatens to strike.
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