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Cable broadcaster HOT held hearings Sunday for 20 technicians slated for the ax, following a recent demonstration they held outside management offices in Yakum. During their protest the workers symbolically broke television sets.

The protest ensued after management told the technicians that it did not recognize their organization under the wing of the Histadrut labor federation, or their right to unionize. They were also protesting the decision to hold "round table" discussions with the technicians, to talk about their employment conditions - while management's real goal, said the technicians, is to alarm them and persuade them to dump the Histadrut.

Hintal Suissa of the Histadrut's unionization department demanded the company withdraw the summons to hearings before dismissal, and accused management of behaving like the leaders of a "dark regime," denying the technicians' freedom of expression and freedom to organize.

"This is employment terrorism. We cannot stay silent as long as it persists," Suissa said.

HOT's 700 television and Internet technicians set up a labor committee, chaired by Jacob Berezovsky, and joined the Histadrut. The workers claim that over the years their employment conditions deteriorated, and accuse management of unilaterally changing remuneration methods. They also complain about not having had a raise in years, and not receiving breaks during working hours.

Berezovsky says the technicians unionized in order to get a collective employment agreement that would give them better terms. Also, he says, they were afraid HOT would fire the lot and rehire them through manpower agencies, at even worse terms. HOT has already outsourced a lot of its customer services.

The Histadrut contacted the company, suggesting that negotiations over pay conditions commence. But the company answered that it did not recognize the technicians' organization. The umbrella union responded by declaring a labor dispute last week. Under the law, it can call a strike two weeks after declaring a dispute, but meanwhile there could be disruptions to service.

HOT commented that 10 technicians rioted by the company's offices, and that it would comply with the law on the matter. It also said that some of the technicians who participated had been summoned to disciplinary hearings, not hearings prior to dismissal.