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The two workers committees of the Haifa port are requesting that the Histadrut labor federation declare a labor dispute. If such a dispute is indeed declared, the workers will be eligible to begin striking or to take other action at the end of the 14-day waiting period mandated by law.

Should a dispute begin, it would be the first of its kind at the port since reforms were implemented there in February 2005, according to an agreement between the Finance Ministry, the Histadrut and the worker committees.

The basis for requesting a dispute is a disagreement between workers and the port management regarding the wages of 90 maritime department employees. According to the committees, management has yet to appoint an arbitration panel regarding the size of the premium the workers are supposed to receive.

Other reasons are the demand by the tugboat workers to work in the port's new site and charges of safety deficiencies.

Haifa port workers decided to boycott this year's annual Rosh Hashanah toast, held by management; similarly, a majority of the Ashdod port's workers did not show up last week for their holiday toast at the orders of their committees.

The reason for boycotting the ceremonies is management's decision to hold a joint toast for all workers, in contrast to the tradition of holding separate ceremonies for each department.

The port committees attribute symbolic significance in the separate ceremonies with respect to their struggle to preserve the status quo, according to which each department has its own workers committee. In contrast, port management, the treasury, and the Government Companies Authority are trying to end the situation of having multiple committees and are aiming instead to create one union per port.

Haifa Histadrut leader Yigal Cohen commented: "I will try to hold a dialogue with Haifa port management to avert deterioration" of the situation.

Haifa port management commented: "We don't know of a labor dispute, and there is no reason for one." Management added that port workers are obliged not to take strike action until 2010 within the framework of the reforms.

"An Ashdod port spokesperson claimed that 'many workers attended' the Rosh Hashanah toast ceremony," management also noted.