A general strike by the Histadrut labor federation is due to begin tomorrow morning aimed at limiting the use of workers hired via manpower agencies. The Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations has requested an injunction banning the strike in an effort to prevent the economic damage it would cause, but the Histadrut says the strike is legitimate. The National Labor Court is expected to hear the case today.
The issue involves the way many workers in both the private and public sectors are employed. They are outsourced, meaning their services are purchased by government or private entities for work outside the employers' core operations.
The core work of the Education Ministry, for example, involves teaching. It therefore employs teachers directly so it can direct the way the work is carried out. As an efficiency measure and to save money, the ministry contracts out for services such as cleaning, security, catering, computer operations and payroll, which are not part of its core activities.
The ministry's administrative capacity is limited; it can't efficiently handle all these activities. Since we live in a world of specialization and competition, the response is to outsource, an accepted practice in the Western world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the world's developed economies, views this phenomenon positively.
In Israel the practice has been widely used because the Histadrut and public-sector workers' committees have not allowed management any flexibility when it comes to personnel. It has been impossible to make changes regarding staff - to reorganize, shift around, replace or dismiss workers in the public sector.
Still, we shouldn't ignore the exploitation of janitorial workers and security personnel employed via manpower agencies. In many cases, they don't even receive the minimum guaranteed by labor laws. We must therefore thoroughly address the situation. Histadrut chief Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz must sit down and negotiate an agreement to improve the wage terms of the janitorial and security workers and even give them full social welfare benefits, including employer payments into their pension funds. The state must also institute a serious enforcement system to ensure that such an agreement is carried out.
When this happens, a strike like tomorrow's will be unnecessary.
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