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A strike at Ashdod port shutting down imports and exports is only a matter of days, Histadrut labor federation officials warned yesterday. They say the reason for the renewed crisis is management's refusal to negotiate with union leaders over their differences.

In a letter he wrote to the Ashdod port management, Histadrut trade union department head Tsahi Tabakman suggested "utilizing the days left" in the mandated period since a work dispute was declared to talk with the union about their demands and thereby prevent a strike.

Tabakman added, "The Histadrut bit its lip for a long time, resisted great pressure, and didn't take any measures against management believing it was interested in reaching agreements." He charged that since the work dispute was declared, management had acted irresponsibly, refusing to negotiate.

A port official commented: "The reasons for the Histadrut declaring the dispute are unclear," saying the Histadrut has avoided providing any excuses for days, as required by law. "The Histadrut knows it is not supposed to strike or cause work disruptions until 2010, based on the port reform agreement signed in 2005." The official called the dispute declaration a "cynical attempt" to force management to hire relatives of union leaders and workers.