Likud MKs Eli Aflalo and Ruhama Avraham are good people. When the Grunau report came up for debate in the Knesset Finance Committee, their hearts bled for the Bezeq workers, and it was a toss-up as to which of the two was risking more for the sake of the deprived. Aflalo said that Bezeq's rates could not be cut so sharply because that would lead to dismissals, while Avraham claimed that swelling the ranks of the unemployed was in direct contrast to government policy.
But Professor Grunau and his team thoroughly and professionally investigated the matter of prices set by the telephone monopoly and recommended the cuts, which also received the approval of both the finance minister and the prime minister (with slight amendments). But who are the evil Grunau, Netanyahu and Sharon when we are talking about the compassionate Aflalo and Avraham? Aflalo and Avraham will have to be approved by the Likud Central Committee to run in the next Knesset elections, and this committee includes very active representatives of Bezeq workers, who must not be upset.
The Grunau report recommended cutting Bezeq's rates by a nominal 5.5 percent, forcing the company to become 3 percent more efficient each year. It also recommended canceling the minimum charge, thereby rectifying a gross injustice. (Today, even when you dial a wrong number, or get an answering machine, or the person you want is not in, or the call lasts only a second or two - you are still charged the minimum 22.5 agorot.)
Aflalo and Avraham do not want to understand that cutting Bezeq rates is good for the economy. This is the right way to encourage employment and growth, because cutting the tariffs would create significant savings of NIS 286 million a year for telephone users. These are real savings that would boost the private sector and therefore encourage taking on new employees. Cutting phone rates would also contribute to raising our standard of living, because we would pay less per call, and this is true for everyone. But the public good is not represented on the Likud Central Committee.
The 3 percent a year cost-cutting requirement imposed on Bezeq (for each of the next four years) is also essential, as it will force the company to trim its bloated wage expenses. The state-controlled company says it has already made sweeping cutbacks in recent years, including downsizing some 3,000 staffers. But the truth is that Bezeq is an overstaffed, inefficient monopoly with nepotism in every department. Bezeq's wage bill stands at NIS 1.5 billion a year for around 6,000 workers. Its private competitor Cellcom has 3,000 workers (half Bezeq's number), but a wage bill of only NIS 500 million (a third that of Bezeq).
So today, before they cast their votes on the Grunau report, we should ask Avraham and Aflalo who they represent. The 6,000 Bezeq workers, or 6.7 million Israeli citizens? Let them tell us exactly why, in a recession, the overtaxed suffering public should have to finance Bezeq's superfluous workers and bloated wages.
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