All signs point to a general strike tomorrow. Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini needs it. Three years ago Eini was one of the most powerful people in Israel. He dragged the Labor Party into the government and became almost family with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Eini was part of the "round table" and no decisions were made against his wishes.
But everything changed a year ago when Labor left the government and Eini's flowing tresses were chopped off. He can no longer threaten to break up the government coalition, and the round table has collapsed. The social protests that erupted last summer also ignored him, and Eini started feeling that the world kept on spinning without him. Lately he has been worried by the strengthing of the Koach La Ovdim (Democratic Workers' Organization ) as a rival to the Histadrut. And don't forget that in three months he will face federation elections. That is why the issue of contract workers is a fine horse to ride all the way back to the top.
But all these political considerations do not mean that the question of contract workers is not a deserving one. It is extremely deserving. More than once we have heard of clear cases of disgraceful exploitation of contract workers who work as cleaners or security guards and did not receive fair wages or social benefits. This phenomenon must disappear. The only question is how to do it properly.
Eini wants all contract workers - some 250,000 - to become permanent workers in government offices, the public sector and private businesses. In the first stage, Eini will settle for all cleaning workers (around 40,000 ) to receive this new status. But such a step will wreak havoc on the economy's employment framework and managerial freedom. It is, in fact, a declaration that the only possible form of employment is direct employment, without any possibility of buying services from an outside provider. It is also absurd and will damage the economy.
The idea behind purchasing services from an outside supplier comes from the idea of specialization. Every employer, and it is not important whether they are public or private, specializes in some area where they want to be the best. In the Finance Ministry they specialize in economics; at Intel they specialize in electronics. But in both places they do not want to deal with cleaning. So it is appropriate and efficient to go to an outside company and buy services from it. This is also often done in the areas of information technology, accounting and salary preparation.
We should recognize the truth: The minute cleaning workers are brought into the civil service and receive tenure, they will soon discover a reason why they are inappropriate for those posts. And then their employers will be forced to find them another - artificial - position, since they have tenure. The state will hire a new cleaning worker, ad infinitum. It is not without reason that Shlomo Buhbut, the Union of Local Authorities head and mayor of Ma'alot-Tarshiha, opposes Eini's demands. He knows all too well what will happen to the level of cleaning in his city.
But even if Eini agrees to full managerial freedom - including the ability to fire - it will be impossible to forego outsourcing. It is always better to specialize in your core business and buy certain services from the outside. This is exactly what they think in Europe. There, they allow outsourcing as an integral part of the modern management model. Outsourcing is in widespread use, mostly by the governments of England, Germany, Sweden and Holland; and none of these countries limit the use of this method of employment. Moreover, the purchase of services from outside sources is on the rise in European nations.
We cannot, therefore, be the exception and turn into the first Western country that forbids outsourcing. It will harm the economy, investment and growth. Eini's strike would have been appropriate if it had focused on improving employment conditions for cleaning workers and security guards. They deserve improvements in their wages, benefits, pension conditions and holiday leave; and they even deserve gifts for the holidays, as is customary in Israel.
But Eini is not willing to make do with such impressive achievements. He wants to make Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz obey his commands, and return to his status as the person who makes the decisions alongside Netanyahu. Eini wants to prove that he is the real leader of the Israeli economy and that it dances to his tune. Wednesday we will see if Steinitz and Netanyahu surrender and give him what he wants.
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