Paul the Octopus
Israel’s court workers can be grateful that local officials didn’t settle for Paul the Octopus’s prediction and insisted on watching the semi-final World Cup match between Spain and Germany. Photo by AP
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On Sunday, a seemingly unending three-week strike by the courts administration employees ended in an agreement to improve employment terms for about 500 workers.

It turns out that the courts administration had adopted a highly original method of employing these 500 people, of which many are stenographers. For years they hadn't been employed full-time: they worked 7/8ths of a job. The system could thereby keep more people on its payroll, because its budget limits the number of full-time positions the court system may have.

But a corollary of working 7/8ths of a job is that pension and social benefits were not paid in full. Some did work overtime, so their take-home pay was roughly the same as if they'd worked full-time. But their benefits suffered; overtime isn't factored in when calculating the income basis for a pension. One has to wonder what the Labor Court (which is part of the same system ) thinks about this arrangement.

In any case, the Histadrut labor federation supported the strike and demanded that all these people be upgraded to full-time. Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut's trade unions division, handled the negotiations on behalf of the workers with the Finance Ministry and wrested a concession. By the end 2012, all the part-time positions will become full-time. The workers will also get a bonus of 1.2 months' salary.

Nissenkorn called it an "important achievement." But what he and the court workers may not realize is that they owe a big thank-you to the World Cup. More precisely, they owe thanks to the semi-final match between Germany and Spain that was played last Wednesday.

The meeting between Moshe Gal, head of the Courts Administration, with the people from the Finance Ministry budgets department about the cost of the proposed arrangement, was scheduled for Wednesday evening. But everybody wanted to watch the game. Within half an hour, they had an agreement in hand.

During the strike, people couldn't file law suits and those legal actions being processed were held up. By the way, the delays aren't over. At the end of this week, the court system goes on holiday until the end of August. Rosh Hashanah falls on September 9 and after that there's the other Jewish holidays.

Now you know why legal proceedings in Israel take so long.

Controlling the comptroller

Meanwhile, on Monday the State Control Committee at the Knesset, headed by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ), will finally be convening to discuss the state comptroller's budget. It turns out that over the last two years, the state comptroller's budget leaped heavenward. It jumped by 9.6% in 2009 and 16.4% in 2010, a pace that even dwarfs the growth of the defense budget. From 2006 to 2010, the comptroller's budget increased by 8.8% a year, on average, the fastest rate in government. Meanwhile, the national budget grew by 2% to 3% a year.

The state comptroller's budget for "housing and construction" alone grew by 250% in a year, from NIS 2 million in 2008 to NIS 7.2 million in 2009. Why? Because the comptroller in Haifa moved to a more upscale office (in a building slated for preservation ). Now, a new home for the State Comptroller's Office is to be built in Jerusalem, at a cost of NIS 160 million.

It also turns out - the Finance Ministry hadn't even known about this - that the State Comptroller's Office is the only one allowed to transfer any budget surplus from one year to the next. If any other government office underspends its budget, the remainder simply gets wiped off the slate. The State Comptroller's Office gets to keep the money.

There are advantages to the comptroller's office's sitting on a pile of cash. But Hasson would do well to push through a reform requiring the State Comptroller's Office to spend all or return the remainder to the state, lest it be tempted to squander the money.