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The Ports Authority is to offer 27 percent of all workers at the state-owned ports - about 650 people - to take early retirement at generous terms. This was the outcome of recent talks between the Finance Ministry and the workers.

It is understood that the compensation for staffers that do agree to leave, as the ports face structural reform, will be no less than 150 percent of the legal redundancy pay (of one month's salary for each year of employment), though the workers' representatives are demanding 250 percent.

"At the moment, only a few dozen workers are prepared to leave their jobs, and most of them are veterans of 50 years old or more," said David Peretz, head of the Haifa Port workers committee, on the weekend. "If the offer from the state and the Ports Authority was improved, then more would be willing to leave. In any case, we are talking about voluntary redundancy and not forced dismissals, not even of one single worker."

Both sides agreed that the talks on Thursday at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya were to the point and conducted in a "good atmosphere." Ofer Eini of the Histadrut labor federation and Yuval Rachlevsky, the treasury's wages director were also present.

Nevertheless, Peretz added yesterday, "there is no chance that the reforms, in which the ports become government companies, will take place by February 17th. The talks between us and the treasury have certainly been intensive in recent days, but the matters we have to resolve are many, and you must remember that the legal wording could delay signing any agreement that guarantees workers rights by an indefinite period."

Sources at the treasury replied that the new Ports Law, which encompasses the reforms, will go into effect as planned on February 17th, thereby leaving enough time for the sides to bridge their differences.

According to the government's reforms, the three state-owned ports of Eilat, Ashdod and Haifa will become separate and competing independent units, to be sold eventually to the private sector.