strike - Emil Salman - March 8 2011
Social workers protest outside the Finance Ministry building in Jerusalem, March 8, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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"I don't sleep at night," the Finance Ministry's wages director, Ilan Levin, said when asked about salary disparities in the public sector. A social worker's average gross salary is NIS 13,000 per month, while forklift operators at the ports gross between NIS 35,000 and NIS 40,000. "There's no logic or justice in the public sector," Levin said. "Wages are set based on each institution's power."

The pressure by workers' committees at the large government monopolies - including the ports, the electric company, the railways and the airport authority - lets the workers boost salaries and employment terms unreasonably. We're not talking about competitive salaries in certain industries. No private port operator would pay forklift operators such sums.

It's also clear that these wage levels aren't justified by high worker output. Efficiency levels at Israeli ports are low, barely approaching international averages. Nor is such compensation justified based on economics. The ports have indeed become profitable, but these are profits earned by monopolies. If the ports had to compete with privately-run companies, it's doubtful they would remain profitable in their current inefficient state.

A by-product is that disparities in pressure applied by parts of the public sector also create outrageous wage disparities. This not only damages one's sense of social justice, it decreases the efficiency of government service. The price is paid by the other public employees and the public at large, which is burdened by a high cost of living and lower-quality government service.

The time has come to address this injustice. The Netanyahu government must pursue comprehensive reforms. The reforms must tackle labor relations, make the government more efficient, eliminate disparities in the public sector and set long-term government labor targets.

A public sector that is run fairer and more efficiently will not only be a source of pride for the workers, it will be a good example for everyone. The Histadrut labor federation, including the workers in the government monopolies, should welcome such a reform, which would benefit everyone - the workers themselves and the public.

Read this article in Hebrew