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The Histadrut labor federation declared a labor dispute today that could theoretically led to a nationwide strike by 700,000 public sector employees in two weeks.

The grounds for the dispute are the nonpayment of salaries by some local authorities and religious councils.

The importance of the decision is that a strike may commence after the legally required two-week wait.

The decision pertains to 700,000 civil servants, including government ministries, local and regional authorities, governme ports Authority. This means planes will not take off or land at the height of the season, train service will halt, as will sanitation and garbage collection.

Most private-sector employees will not be affected, since they do not belong to the Histadrut.

"I told the Finance Ministry that we could no longer sit by allowing the law to be trampled by dozens of local authorities and religious councils, which have been withholdin g salaries from workers for months on end, and don't pay social benefits according to the standard employment agreement," said Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, who made the final decision on the strike.

On Sunday the Histadrut Disciplinary Committee unanimously decided to depose all the members of the National Committee of Religious Council Workers, headed by David Mishali. The grounds for their ouster was their failure to cause the religious councils to pay their workers.

The Committee ordered the National Committee of Religious Council Workers twice to declare a dispute, ahead of a strike, and to suspend religious services including weddings and burials. But the National Committee of Religious Council Workers refused.