For 30 years, the Ramon Textile Factory has been the symbol of Mitzpeh Ramon: Through thick and thin, the factory managed to survive. But now, its future is in doubt: Barring a miracle, employees say, it will soon close its doors.
In recent months, the company's financial situation has deteriorated and debts have accumulated. Orders are running low, and wages have not been paid for two months.
Ten years ago, the factory was transferred from private ownership to the Histadrut labor federation and transformed into a cooperative.
"Even back then, there was poor management," said Yitzhak Berger, who has run the business for the past year and served as secretary of the Mitzpeh Ramon local council for a decade.
"I came here voluntarily six months ago," he said. "But there were many debts: NIS 3 million to the Histadrut, NIS 800,000 in municipal taxes to Mitzpeh Ramon, a NIS 300,000 loan to the Finance Ministry. A few months ago, I stopped providing transportation for the 15 employees who live in Yeruham and Dimona because I had no money for the bus."
"The employees have not received their wages for the past two months," he continued. "The Defense Ministry provides us with revenues of NIS 3-4 million a year, but it goes to pay suppliers and to taxes, so I have no money for wages. The employees have given up and are looking for other work."
But some point an accusing finger at a spat between Berger and Mayor Flora Shushan. "Suddenly, because of the dispute, we are receiving letters demanding payment of municipal taxes, which we did not get in the past," said one Mitzpeh Ramon resident.
Shushan denied this, saying she has actually helped the factory. "The factory has other debts in addition to the municipal taxes, and the local authority has put its demand for payment on hold," she said. "We haven't collected the money from them; we are helping them and asking the Interior Ministry to help them. I have a responsibility for the employees' livelihood, and I will do everything in my power to help the factory and the employees."
Yossi Huber, who heads the regional Histadrut office, said, "There are two options: Either the employees agree to accept their wages late, which is a very serious thing, or the factory will close down."
On Sunday, he added, he will meet with the employees, "and then we will have to decide whether to close down the factory or go on. The situation has not been good for years, but we really do not want to see the employees fired."
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