The Histadrut labor federation has called a general strike scheduled for Monday in an attempt to reduce to a minimum the use of contract workers in the Israeli economy, said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini yesterday.

The Histadrut is demanding significant cuts in the use of subcontracted labor in both the public and private sectors, said Eini. The Finance Ministry and many private employers object strenuously.

The expected strike will mostly affect the public sector and will include Ben-Gurion Airport, ports and trains. Government and local authority offices will be closed, Kupat Holim Clalit clinics will close. University administrative offices will also be closed. State hospitals will operate on an emergency basis - but buses will run.

The Histadrut declared an official labor dispute for the entire economy at the beginning of October, but has been negotiating with the treasury since. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even participated in three of the meetings. Negotiations will continue over the weekend and on Sunday in an attempt to reach an agreement and avoid a general strike.

"Netanyahu showed surprising willingness for progress in reducing the use of contract workers and transfering employees to permanent status, but treasury officials have remained inflexible and torpedoed any agreement. Their world view is that bringing contract workers into the permanent public workforce is like bringing a pig into a synagogue, or an enemy into the country," said Eini.

About 20% of all public sector employees are contract workers without the rights of permanent government employees, said the Histadrut. This is by far the highest level in the developed world. In the private sector the figures are 6% to 10%. Such workers earn less than half as much as permanent employees who do the same jobs, said the Histadrut, and quite often they are denied social benefits. The biggest dispute is over workers in areas such as cleaning and security guards.

A number of private sector employers seem to be more willing than the Finance Ministry to employ such workers directly, said Shraga Brosh, the head of the Manufacturers Association. But this does not include security guards or catering service workers in businesses, said Brosh.