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We have been reading about the sanctions and early closing times of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange for 18 days now, even though these have been some of the rockiest times in decades for financial markets. Stock exchange employees have declared an official work dispute, and the management has taken to closing trading early at 2:15 P.M. out of fear that workers might strike during trading hours.

But what is actually behind the story of the TASE closing down some three hours early every day? And has the shorter trading day had an effect on the markets? Has it caused investors to miss out on end-of-the-day rallies, or just bigger losses? Or maybe it actually has moderated panic?

There are obviously no clear answers, but one trader explained that in addition to all that is going on in world markets, the pressure of the stock exchange "strike" is only making things worse. "People need to act, and there is no time. It creates a gap between the opening of trading overseas and trading in Israel, and limits everyone," said one trader.

So what are the two sides actually fighting about? How much is at stake, and is this worth shutting the TASE down early for weeks?

The TASE employees' union is demanding a 15% raise, in addition to a bonus for workers equal to seven monthly salaries. According to TASE sources, these demands amount to NIS 15 million a year. This is not a trivial sum: In 2005 and 2006 the TASE made NIS 40 million in annual profits on revenues of NIS 180-190 million. Of course those were excellent years for the stock market - and therefore the dispute with the workers will have a clear effect on the exchange's bottom line.

The union met with workers during working hours last week, and this led to disruptions in a number of operations. Last Tuesday, the union met with management, but the meeting ended without progress. No further meeting has been set yet.

The union accuses management of ignoring, or even holding in contempt, the negotiations to end the dispute. The Histadrut labor federation accuses TASE managing director Ester Levanon of "disappearing," and says that is one of the reasons for the continuation of the shortened trading sessions.

The TASE's management is worried. In response to the union's accusations, Levanon said the union is the responsible for putting off the negotiations. She denied she had disappeared, and said both sides' advisers were working to reach an agreement on the two main issues in dispute: the amount of the salary increase, and the transfer of workers employed by manpower companies to the status of regular employees of the TASE.