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"The private supermarket chains, which don't have group labor contracts, make their profits on the backs of workers, whom they employ under substandard terms," the Histadrut labor federation and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce state in a petition to the High Court of Justice.

The Histadrut and the federation asked the court to reject a petition by several private chains, which were seeking an exemption from an order by the industry and trade minister to improve the terms of their employees.

Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer had ordered all of Israel's supermarket chains to give their workers the employment terms hashed out in a group labor agreement signed several months ago between the Histadrut and the federation.

The agreement was originally worked out for the workers at the country's large, publicly owned chains, Super-Sol and Blue Square.

The agreement improves supermarket workers' employment terms and gives them comprehensive pension plans, raises for seniority, continuing education funds and an annual bonus equal to one month's salary.

Several stores, including Mahsanei Hashuk, Victory Management and Holdings, Mahsanei Lahav, Beitan Wines, Super Dush and Kimat Hinam, petitioned the High Court, asking that the order not apply to them. They said that if they were forced to comply, this would raise their annual operating expenses by NIS 437 million.

If they have to meet the terms that workers get at the biggest supermarkets, this will make them uncompetitive, the petitioners argued. Ultimately it will be their workers who are hurt - they'll be forced to lay off workers with seniority and hire new ones, they said.

The Histadrut and the federation don't buy their argument. The workers shouldn't be paying the price of the competition between the supermarkets, they said.