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The hearing yesterday at the National Labor Tribunal on local authorities' debts failed to produce any progress. State representatives claimed before tribunal president Stephen Adler that only nine local authorities are withholding salaries from employees. In contrast, Histadrut labor federation representatives countered that the number stands at 39.

"We are disheartened by the situation," the Histadrut said last night following the hearing. The Histadrut continued: "We don't see any attempt to reach a comprehensive and just solution. The state puts out one fire and immediately lights another. When the problem of withholding wages for three months is solved, they stop paying wages a month later. We are convinced that personal sanctions need to be taken against local authority heads who do not pay wages owed to their employees, but in the last hearing judge Adler didn't deal with this issue at all."

The tribunal questioned local heads from Taibe, Kfar Yasif and Rama about why their authorities had fallen into arrears and are withholding salaries. The Kfar Yasif head replied, "I fired 80 workers and still the bank isn't prepared to extend me a loan." The Rama head said that a large part of the council's funds are directed toward paying lawyers and creditors. Interior Ministry director general Ram Belinkov said that his ministry intends to appoint special committees to run the affairs of municipalities that have suffered from mismanagement.

MK Yitzhak Cohen of Shas, the minister responsible for religious affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, told the tribunal the Histadrut should sign new recovery plan agreements in the local authorities and religious councils to enable cutbacks that would allow paying wages.

Dorit Tene-Perchik, who heads the legal department at the Histadrut's trade union division, responded that the Histadrut doesn't object to signing a recovery plan deal. However, she announced that should the plan not unequivocably guarantee full payment of workers' wages and their pension plans, the Histadrut would refuse to sign the deal.