Workers at the Ports Authority are to join the public sector workers strike today. They will close completely the three seaports, Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat, thereby halting all the country's imports and exports.
Within days, some plants will run out of raw material, local production will come to a stop, and the business sector will suffer severe damage, so much so that jobs will be on the line in these very trying times. The direct damage caused is estimated at around $40 million a day, while the indirect damage is even higher, through loss of faith and failing to meet delivery schedules.
The ports are a bottleneck on the economy, so the blockage should be cleared, and the three ports should be made to compete against each other. Only then will they behave like every other port in the world; with 24-hour workdays, high levels of service, fast and efficient, no lines and no delays. It can be achieved. Just look at Bezeq today and Bezeq of the Postal Authority era.
The previous government tried to introduce competition into the ports by setting up a private wharf at Ashdod called "the Jubilee Port" to bring in the new modes of work.
But the port workers objected and then transportation minister Ephraim Sneh and then finance minister Silvan Shalom gave in. They preferred industrial quiet, and scotched the idea of a private Jubilee port.
Now this time, the unions and Histadrut leader Amir Peretz are against two very different ministers. Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are prepared for a big fight with the 2,500 port authority workers. In an interview before the New Year, Netanyahu told Haaretz: "Our ports are the most inefficient in the world. The government seaports of Ashdod and Haifa, with
workers' committees, are costing me and you tremendous amounts of money in every area of life."
These two pushed a decision through in the government to break up the monopoly, by making each port independent so that they will compete against each other, but once the workers declared a strike without entering negotiations, Netanyahu decided to go one step further: to go for full privatization so that the competitive air will hit all port workers with full whack, and all for our benefit. Because once the ports become more efficient, volume of activity will grow.
Here we like to throw cabinet ministers into the fray, and let them face the music alone. If they succeed, well that's dandy, and if they fail, we blame them (while gloating) for their short-term views, for not understanding and for playing politics.
Maybe this time we should take a different approach: The industrialists, traders, importers should join forces to protest and demonstrate against the ports, making it clear to everyone that inefficient ports come at the expense of private sector jobs.
In addition, every citizen should join in too, to stand up against the most spoiled group of workers in the economy, whose conditions of work are among the best. Because we have had enough of paying a "port tax" on all goods that we buy. We have had enough of financing the inefficiency of this dinosaur that is making a mockery of us.
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