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A mysterious illness seems to have swept through the Ashdod port again: 40|% of the company's workers have reported sick from Sunday.

Port CEO Shuki Sagis says the incidence of absenteeism due to flu and other winter-related disease is 30% to 40% higher than usual for this time of year. But this is the second time inside a year that a major chunk of staff has suddenly disappeared, claiming illness.

Sagis' theory is that possibly, the sudden sickness is actually a figment of the tensions between labor and management, regarding hiring practices.

The management recently filed an urgent motion in court against one of the major unions active in the port, hoping to block the union from participating in a tenders committee that will be ruling on hiring longshoremen. The committee has to choose 90 people out of 1,500 candidates.

Israel's ports have long been notorious as a hotbed of nepotism and cronyism, hence the sensitivity regarding hiring practices.

Haim Shayeb, head of the Histadrut labor federation's Ashdod district, commented that he's no doctor, and hopes the workers recover from their ill health.

He said it was not unthinkable for the labor representatives to declare a labor dispute at the port during the meeting scheduled for this morning with management. If a dispute is formally declared, the union may call a strike after two weeks.

Gabi Ben Harush, chairman of the Haulers and Transporters Council, on Tuesday accused the workers of the Ashdod Port of deliberately slowing down work. Productivity is running at half capacity, he charged. Because of the disruptions, he has ordered half the trucks not to use the Haifa Port.

Sagis retorted that work at the port has slowed because of the stormy weather.