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One week before the deadline set by Histadrut labor federation chair Ofer Eini for the government to resolve the failure of local authorities to pay their employees wages, the Histadrut says that the number of wage withholders increased during February. "If by next Wednesday employee wages remain unpaid, we will carry out our threat to hold a strike in the public sector," said senior Histadrut sources.

A report prepared by the Histadrut shows that 37 municipalities and local authorities withheld wage payments in February, compared to 33 in January. There is no change in the religious councils, 22 of which continue to withhold wages. Of the 37 authorities, 22 have withheld payment of wages for one month. "I expect the prime minister to stand by the promise he made during the government session last week and resolve the problem, so that every last salary is paid in full. Otherwise, we will have no alternative but to hold a strike," Eini said.

Attempts to head off the coming strike also began yesterday in the Knesset Finance Committee. Committee chair Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) announced that an initiative by a number of MKs for quick legislation is now being consolidated, according to which the government will transfer the amount necessary for payment of wages, and these monies may not be seized.

The National Labor Court struck a request filed by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the Airports Authority and Ashdod Port Company, to issue an injunction order preventing the Histadrut from holding a general strike on the basis of withheld wages in local authorities and failure to transfer payment of provident fund benefits deducted from wages.

National Labor Court President Stephen Adler, and Judges Yigal Plitman and Nili Arad ruled that the prime minister should be allowed to take all necessary steps to resolve the problem. They added, "although the extent of wage withholding has decreased substantially compared to 2004, and although we have seen that the Interior Ministry has made more concerted efforts to supervise the local authorities, the phenomena of withholding wages cannot be accepted and we take a grave view of the local authorities' huge accumulating debt, including to the various funds."

Dozens of flights scheduled to take off yesterday were delayed by up to an hour, as air traffic controllers started a surprise slowdown strike.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) union did not describe the action as a strike, but only as an order given to controllers to work cautiously, in order to reduce the risk of collision between planes taking off and landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport. In any case, the result was the same - thousands delayed.

The union announced that the cause of the slowdown was "the heavy stress affecting the air traffic controllers." The stress, the union said, was the result of a Transportation Ministry report, which investigated a near collision between an El Al and an Iberian airplane a month ago. The report found that the Iberia captain erred, but also found that the controllers did not respond properly to the dangerous situation. The report also stated that the controllers, all Israel Air Force veterans, were not qualified enough to handle civilian traffic. In addition, the union is protesting cutbacks and firings of temporary workers.