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Port workers closed out months of drawn out negotiations with the government yesterday, scoring a generous deal for themselves. The deal clears the way for port reforms to take effect tonight at midnight, barring any last minute delay.

Each of the 2,200 employees of the current Ports Authority will receive a one-time bonus of NIS 50,000. In addition, a substantial additional sum, yet to be determined, will be awarded in five years. The workers promised at the same time to desist from strikes or work disruptions over the next five years. The workers will also receive a 15 percent pay hike, spread out over a few years. Finance Ministry sources said yesterday that the bonus and salary hikes will be funded by the newly established port companies and not from state coffers.

Haifa, Ashdod, and Eilat ports will become separate state-owned companies from tonight, as part of the port reforms. The Ports Authority will cease to exist and, in its place will be a company managing the ports' non-operational assets. Some of the authority's employees will be dispersed among the new companies, while others will be offered early retirement plans with increased compensation.

The negotiating sides also agreed that from now on usage fees at the ports would only decline with the goal of increasing competition between Haifa and Ashdod ports. Shares of the port companies will later be floated on the stock exchange, and not offered to any specific group, the sides concluded.