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Israel's globe-spanning tech companies have been warning investors to expect eroding profits as the dollar dives and the global economy reels - and as oil climbs skyward. Now they're starting to take action to protect their bottom lines. They can't do much about the contracting greenback or the financial crisis, but they can cut fuel use, and Tel Aviv-based Ness Technologies is warning its workers to stomp on the brake, or pay the price.

Ness, which provides information-technology services around much of the world, will fine workers who fail to cut back. Staffers must reduce their fuel consumption when driving company cars by 10%, compared with their own multi-annual average.

If, in a given quarter, a worker uses more than 90% of his multi-year average, the difference will come out of his pay, Ness says.

"At times like these, we must all save on gasoline," Ness commented. "It's become necessary not only because of the price of fuel, but for environmental reasons, too. We have more than 2,000 vehicles in our fleet, and must serve as an example and economize on gasoline."

Ness president Shachar Efal said he believes Ness is blazing a trail, and that he hopes other companies will join. Oil will continue to increase in price, Efal predicts: "People have to get used to changing their fuel consumption habits."

Hybrid-worthy?

There's a carrot, not only a stick. Ness promises to reward drivers who economize on fuel use with bonuses of up to two-thirds of the cost of the gas they save. Again the comparison is with the individual's multi-annual average. The five drivers who save the most will be given the privilege, assuming they want it, of driving a Honda Civic hybrid car, which belongs to the most expensive class of company car (Class 4). The company will even share their tax bill for using a company car.

Ness human resources manager, Atzmon Lifshitz, wrote a letter to employees, explaining that changes are taking place in the global economy - the cost of fuel is increasing, and the dollar exchange rate is changing frequently, among others. "These changes affect us as a company," he wrote, and Ness must change too, in keeping with the new circumstances.

Another change will be to institute a company-wide vacation on Sukkot. Also, workers are being asked to utilize five of their vacation days during July or August.

Fuel use is a fundamental issue for Ness, which employs more than 8,000 people in 18 countries. The company's fleet consists of 2,000 cars, which use about 5 million liters of gasoline a year.

Recently one of Ness' rivals, Matrix, also announced a plan to save on employee gasoline use: It is giving workers half the amount they save as bonuses.

But Ness' moves run deeper, possibly because unlike Matrix, it truly is a global firm, and is much more exposed to the dollar and the damage that the weak greenback is wreaking on its profits.

Other high-tech companies are contending with the spiraling price of oil in different ways. Check Point Software Technologies also took an extreme move - locating offices near a train station. Intel Haifa is offering its employees an incentive to car-pool.

Elbit Systems has no fleet manager: It has a public transportation manager and has formulated a comprehensive plan including organized transportation, a parking lot for motorcycles and bicycles, and only leasing cars that make great mileage. Moreover, the smart identity card that Elbit Systems gives to employees can also be used to pay for train rides, and the company provides transport from the train station to its facility (and back). So far, eight Elbit Systems workers have decided to forgo their company car.

McCann Erickson decided to give workers NIS 15 for each day they ride a bicycle to work, and provides parking for the bike, too.