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Publicly traded Cham Foods, a leading tomato powder producer, joined five other companies this week in suing the port workers' committees, their heads and the Histadrut labor federation for damages suffered from strikes at the ports over the past four months.

A total of 21 companies have filed lawsuits against the Haifa and Ashdod port workers and the Histadrut over the strikes. The combined amount of their demand for damages has topped NIS 11 million.

Manufacturers' Association leader Yoram Blizovsky said dozens more companies are lining up to sue.

The companies filed suits against the Histadrut and against the union leaders after the labor federation disobeyed a court order to end strikes at the Ashdod and Haifa ports earlier this year.

Electra Israel is demanding NIS 1.8 million, Diamant diamonds is claiming NIS 986,000 million, Cham is asking for NIS 532,000, Carmel Carpets wants NIS 450,000 and L'Oreal cosmetics is demanding NIS 308,000.

A sixth company, Mor, has filed personal lawsuits but has not cited the sums involved.

Moreover, the problems at the ports may not be over. Histadrut leader Amir Peretz said that January 15, 2005, is the deadline to reach an agreement with the ports' workers over the privatization process. The workers are demanding that their employment and pension terms be preserved throughout the proposed reforms of the state-owned ports, which involve incorporating the ports as separate, competing commercial entities and then selling them.

Sharon Kedmi adds: Last week the Ports Authority council approved a payment of NIS 100 million as compensation to the port workers whose ships were forced to wait idle in July and August 2004, during the ports' longest-ever strike.