Ofer Eini voting in the 2012 Histadrut elections.
Ofer Eini voting in the 2012 Histadrut elections. Photo by Moti Milrod

In April 2008, the treasury signed a generous wage agreement with the Histadrut labor federation in the hope that it would coax union leaders into agreeing to the ministry's long-sought goal: civil service reform.

What it got in the end from Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini was consent to form a committee to study the matter.

But the committee never met. Since then, the treasury has tried on several other occasions to revive reform in individual government bodies - the Israel Lands Administration, the ports and the army, to name a few. In 2010, the two sides agreed to revive the committee - again to no effect.

"In the last 30 years Israel has undertaken no across-the-board reforms," says Prof. Moshe Maor, an expert on public sector reform at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "The Histadrut, the biggest union in Israel, is the one blocking the necessary wide-ranging changes in the civil service with all its power. Collective agreements have ossified the sector."

Maor says unions reason that any structural changes threaten their control over the civil service, state-owned companies and local authorities.

The current situation prevents civil servants from being fired and doesn't let supervisors move employees from job to job according to the needs of the organization, or measure job performance and award pay raises accordingly.

"Thus it is difficult to recruit and keep in the system the really best workers. Those who remain are middling performers who have no reason to excel," says Maor. He also puts the blame on the prime mister and the Civil Service Commission, neither of whom have taken any initiative.