firetruck - Assayag - 8.5.12
A firetruck in Israel. Photo by Ilan Asayag
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed a Knesset committee chairman on Monday to push forward a bill to create a national firefighting authority, hoping to pass the bill into law today, before the Knesset is dissolved.

Netanyahu called in Knesset Interior and Environment Committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) in advance of the committee's marathon session today on a slew of proposed laws.

The firefighting bill, which was submitted by the Public Security Ministry, would create a national authority to replace the numerous firefighting agencies around the country. The law would allow firefighters to organize and strike, despite the Finance Ministry's initial opposition to this provision. All of the country's current firefighters would become employees of the new state agency and would not suffer a cut in pay, according to the bill.

The Finance Ministry had offered the firefighters a one-time transitional payment, but the Histadrut labor federation and the firefighters' workers committee are demanding that passage of the bill be conditioned on a new, expensive labor agreement. The Finance Ministry is proposing that the state take over all of the assets and liabilities of the existing local firefighting agencies. Those assets are valued at NIS 700 million - with liabilities coming in at NIS 2.5 billion.