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Could the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, be veering away from his policy of maintaining industrial peace?

One could say the labor disputes declared in recent weeks indicate cracks in the restraint that Eini undertook since his election at the beginning of 2006.

Two of Eini's recent speeches could hint at the future: Along with the statement that there would be no strikes in 2008 and 2009, excepting isolated cases, Eini announced that industrial peace would end in 2010.

"I prefer talks, with a minimum of strikes," Eini said last week. "But a strike now and then is not a disaster.".

There was some indication yesterday that he might not mind stirring up labor relations. For the first time, the Histadrut declared a labor dispute in the catering industry - at Shefa, the largest company in the industry. Shefa employs 1,000 workers who provide service to schools, hospitals and companies. Six hundred of these workers joined the Histadrut in October, following the sale of the company. The legal council for the Histadrut's professional unions department notified the company that the workers had unionized, and called on management to commence negotiations toward a collective agreement.

Shefa's management, however, appears to be in no hurry to meet the Histadrut at the negotiating table. The firm's management said that it wants a third party to authenticate employee signatures on the Histadrut's union forms.

The labor dispute at Shefa joins three public sector disputes that simultaneously ruffled the calm this week - an unheard of state of affairs in Eini's tenure as the Histadrut chief. The strike of 700 court transcribers erupted a month ago and has already resulted in the extension of court hearings, as judges tried to fill in for the stenos themselves. Lawyers say that the judges' attempts have resulted in record errors and even warped justice. .

Wages Supervisor Ilan Levine at the Finance Ministry acquiesced to the transcribers' demand for a NIS 1,000 wage increase, and 550 of them will be appointed to the civil service.

Workers of the National Insurance Institute went on strike on Sunday this week and closed down NII branches for three days over demands for better wages. They returned to work after winning increases of NIS 200-NIS 400 to their salaries. In addition, some of the workers will be granted increased seniority.

A third strike this week was held at the Water Authority. Workers complain that the authority's director, Uri Shani, has made unilateral structural changes within the organization while ignoring their demands. So long as the strike continues, aquifer levels will not be measured, and no appeals over the drought tax will be handled.