Histadrut: Nationwide Strike Is Inevitable

40 local authorities, 16 religious councils aren't paying workers

A general strike is inevitable, Histadrut labor federation leaders said yesterday, due to the failure of the government and the local authorities to pay wages to tens of thousands of workers.

The Histadrut chiefs will meet today to decide when to launch the strike, which will paralyze the country's air, sea and train traffic, shut ministries, municipalities and local authorities and disrupt the work of government corporations like the Post Office and Israel Military Industries.

Also yesterday, university student organizations called off the strike that was to have affected all institutions of higher education starting today after signing an agreement last night with Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the government.

Most labor federation chiefs believe that firmer steps are required now, after the National Labor Court's failure to force the government and local authorities to pay the workers' wages.

They said that 40 local authorities and 16 religious councils have been delaying their workers' wages repeatedly over the last two years.

"After numerous Labor Court debates and following the Histadrut's restraint, the labor federation is now entitled to resort to far-reaching measures to ensure the workers' basic right to receive their wages on time," a Histadrut spokesman said.

Manufacturers Association chairman Shraga Brosh said yesterday that he understood the Histadrut's reasons for calling the strike.

"It's scandalous that workers are not being paid, and that employers are not transferring funds they deducted from the workers' wages for further education funds, pension and providence funds," Brosh said.

He said that he would work with Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On to try to avert the strike today.

"We cannot reconcile ourselves to a strike; it causes the economy NIS 350 million in damages a day," he said.

Brosh said the wage crisis must be solved by legislation, which would enable the state to transfer funds for the local authorities directly to the workers' accounts.

Legislation is also needed to authorize the interior minister to depose of mayors implicated in corruption, and to appoint committees to run their towns. He said corruption and irregularities prevent the local authorities from paying workers on time.

Attorney Nahum Feinberg, who represents the large employers, said he too supported the Histadrut's struggle to stop "the disgraceful practice of withholding wages."

Feinberg said that unlike most Histadrut-supported strikes so far, "this one could not be more justified."

Israel Railway workers, who went on strike on Friday, resumed work last night. The railway workers are embroiled in a labor dispute with the management, due to its failure to renew the wage agreement, which expired at the end of 2005. The workers also object to plans to set up a subsidiary company for cargo transportation.