port workers
Shipping containers in Ashdod Port. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Ashdod Port management has been unable to put an end to an unofficial labor slowdown that began this week, despite turning to the National Labor Court twice in the past two days to force dockworkers to resume normal work.

Although dockworkers are battling government plans to set up privately operated ports in Ashdod and Haifa to compete with the state-owned facilities, management claimed on Monday that the current labor action is motivated by union politics rather than reform.

Union boss Alon Hassan and his deputy Avinoam Shoshan ordered dockworkers to refuse to unload automobiles from ships, participate in committees charged with hiring new dockworkers and attending a professional training course.

“Hassan is waging a personal battle in order to divert attention from the investigations against him and is using his job in order to achieve personal gains while harming the port's clients and employees,” Gideon Siterman, chairman of the Ashdod Port Company's board, said on Monday.

Hassan is being probed for alleged conflicts of interest between his job as head of the port workers’ union and his various personal businesses. He was forced to take a leave of absence in the summer but returned to the port after the Histadtrut labor federation said it found no evidence of wrongdoing.

On Monday, the labor court ordered workers to end their slowdown. On Tuesday, when it became evident that the union was only partially following the court order, management sought a temporary injunction again.

According to port management, Hassan ostensibly ordered the labor action after management turned down his request that a confidant, Koby Kedar, be assigned to work unloading automobiles, even though Kedar's formal job is crane operator. In response, management alleges, Hassan ordered dockworkers responsible for unloading cars to cease work, creating a three- or four-ship bottleneck at the port that will delay cargo unloading operations at the port for the coming days.

Kedar was recently filmed in a Channel 2 investigative report, appearing to manage one of Hassan's restaurants without port approval. Following that report, the port's internal auditing unit opened an investigation into Kedar, with which he refused to cooperate. Following the findings of the audit, Kedar was moved from a job as an instructor to his previous position of bridge crane operator.

In response, it is alleged, the union instructed port workers not to work overtime, a serious blow to the port's operations because the port suffers a manpower shortage. Day-to-day operations require workers to do overtime.

The refusal by workers to participate in hiring committees came after a letter sent by Uri Yogev, the head of the Government Companies Authority, forbidding the port from hiring relatives of current port employees or port union members, which has been a common practice. As many as 100 new stevedores are supposed to be hired by the committee, which has been operating at snail's pace for almost a year.