eini - David Bachar - October 12 2011
Ofer Eini, second from right, and Histadrut representatives voting to declare an official labor dispute yesterday in Tel Aviv. Photo by David Bachar
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The Histadrut labor federation declared an official labor dispute for all Israeli workers yesterday, in protest at the conditions of workers employed by manpower companies, and the huge amount of such outsourced labor.

"Social justice cannot happen without dealing with the embarrassing situation of hundreds of thousands of contract workers in Israel. Instead of giving them rights, a slave trade has been created," said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini yesterday.

The official meaning of the declaration of a labor dispute is that after a legally mandated 14-day cooling off period, Histadrut can call a general strike, or take other sanctions. In practice, Histadrut could focus predominantly on strikes in the public sector, where most unionized employees work. Among the services that could strike are the airports, Israel Railways, ports, government ministries, local authorities, government hospitals, the National Insurance Institute and numerous government corporations and authorities.

In recent years, Histadrut has attempted to improve the conditions for employees of contractors, and in fact a law improving their situation was passed by the Knesset, said Eini. At the same time, Histadrut has tried to negotiate with the Finance Ministry over these employees' conditions - to no avail, said Eini.

The social protest movement created a basis for the battle on behalf of the contract workers, said Eini. Histadrut will now battle the government and private sector on behalf of such workers, in an attempt to end this harmful method of employment, he said. The fight will start first with such contract workers, then move on to outsourcing in general, and finally put an end to the use of personal contracts instead of collective wage agreements, he added.

"We have started the battle to transfer as large a number as possible of contract workers to the status of regular workers. There is no greater social justice than this," Eini said.

The two most recent wage agreements in the public sector include sections requiring the discussion of the banning of such employment, but the treasury has steadfastly refused to discuss the matter.

There has been little change in the status of such workers, despite Eini's attacks on the practice ever since he became Histadrut chairman in 2006.

Some 5% to 10% of the Israeli workforce is employed indirectly as contract workers, compared to the 2% average in other OECD countries.