The Bottom Line / Fill in the gap
When we talk about inequalities and the income gap, we imagine the richest being factory owners, or importers, in contrast to the simple production line worker. But what is the picture in the civil service or in state-owned monopolies - bodies that are now involved in industrial action?
When we talk about inequalities and the income gap, we imagine the richest being factory owners, or importers, in contrast to the simple production line worker. But what is the picture in the civil service or in state-owned monopolies - bodies that are now involved in industrial action? Does the Histadrut worry that at least in these cases the wage gap should be minimized?
Here are some examples of the wages in the top two deciles (that's the top 20 percent) in these institutions: In the Oil Refineries monopoly, the top wage stands at NIS 54,000 a month; top whack at the Airports Authority is NIS 56,000; while the Israel Broadcasting Authority pays out NIS 47,000 a month to its top earner. At the state-owned ports of Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat, there are 300 workers whose salaries are greater than NIS 34,000 a month.
In contrast to these fat cats, whose wages and pensions are higher than the norm in the private business sector, are the thousands of workers receiving low-medium wages, and a yawning inequality.
The high-tech industry once had a similar problem. In 1999, top wages reached unreasonable proportions. After the 2000 collapse, managers cut salaries of research and developments professionals and programmers by 30 percent. But apparently when you cut pay so sharply, it develops a sense of bitterness among the workers who feel that the employers are taking advantage of them. However, they are willing to accept that the rules of the game have changed and that their labor is worth less in the market.
So the high-tech industry solved the problem by dismissing entire R&D teams and taking on new teams - no worse in professional terms - at 30 percent lower wages. The new workers, who were saved from being unemployed, not only did not feel bitter, but also were grateful for their new employment.
Now the government of Israel could adopt the same solution, with suitable adjustments. It could issue tenders for any job that pays salaries greater than NIS 31,000 a month, that is the wage of a director general of a government ministry. The new maximum wage - and this would be a condition of the tender - would be 30 percent less than the current rate. No doubt there will be plenty of fine unemployed individuals who are prepared to accept these new civil service conditions. Maybe even the top workers themselves will understand that they have gone over the top, and will agree to accept a 30 percent wage cut in order to keep their own jobs.
The cut will save the government billions. And it would be fitting to use these sums to increase wages for the bottom deciles in the public sector, thereby correcting an injustice. Histadrut chief Amir Peretz would be hard pushed to oppose this, since it attempts to readdress the society's inequality. But Peretz's problem is that he actually represents the top earners in the public sector. But it is the masses taking the sanctions - whether the customs workers or those at Maman cargo handling - who are simply cannon fodder for the top deciles, but who also, once the strikes are over, will enjoy the benefits to the full.