The Standards Institute of Israel (SII) may be mired in NIS 30 million of debts and yet to approve its 2005 budget, but it still manages to fly three of its senior staffers to a conference in the U.S.

Workers at the SII expressed surprise that the officials were traveling, particularly at a time when the institute has suffered from both severe financial cutbacks, as well as from criminal investigations of two staffers, currently underway.

The three to travel to the U.S. are first standards coordinator, Ella Ben-Nun; manager of the Telematics Laboratory, Ilan Carmit and quality training supervisor, Avital Vineberg.

The SII is currently operating according to its 2004 budget, as the organization's working committee took an extraordinary step at its last meeting by failing to approve this year's budget. CEO of the institute, Ziva Patir, is expected to submit a revised budget at the next meeting, either a balanced one or with a much reduced planned deficit, coupled with plans to introduce efficiency steps.

Patir said in response: "The three are traveling to the U.S. National Standards Laboratories in Washington, as part of a broad Israeli delegation headed by the CEO of the Public Works Department. All the costs of the flight and accommodation are being paid for by the Americans. It is a great honor for the Standards Institute of Israel."

Meanwhile, workers at the SII have declared an industrial dispute, a legal preliminary, allowing strike action after a two-week period. The dispute centers around payments to the workers' advanced training fund (keren hishtalmut) and the SII's demands that obliged some 600 staffers to return an average NIS 5,000 each paid into their funds.

An investigation by the Finance Ministry into the training funds revealed that monies for overtime had been incorrectly paid in. The treasury insisted that the SII right the wrong, for the payments made during 1999-2003, and demand that the money be repaid. The workers objected.