Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich yesterday attacked Nochi Dankner at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee called to discuss the putative sale of pesticides maker Makhteshim-Agan Industries, one of the many companies the billionaire businessman owns via his group IDB.
A representative of the company stressed that most jobs would be safe even if the company is sold to China National Chemical Corporation.
"As a representative of Nochi Dankner, I wish to clarify that a clear majority of Makhteshim-Agan employees will continue to work at the plants even after the sale to ChemChina," stated Ami Erel, chairman of Koor Industries, the direct parent company of Makhteshim-Agan.
He added that the deal with ChemChina, which is owned by the Chinese government, is not a done thing yet. Even if it is closed, IDB would retain a 30% interest in Makhteshim-Agan, which would continue to manufacture in Israel, Erel said.
And whether or not the company is sold, Makhteshim-Agan has to streamline, the executive stressed.
Erel wasn't the sole representative of IDB at the meeting, which was convened by Knesset members concerned about job losses at Makhteshim-Agan. Also there was CEO Erez Vigodman, other officials and lobbyists. Before the debate, pressure was exerted on the parliamentarians to cancel it entirely, to avoid criticism of the deal.
While the sale to ChemChina remains open, the layoffs appear certain. But Makhteshim-Agan means to carry them out over years, and to give the departing employees more than warranted under law or their contracts, Erel reassured. "We are negotiating with the workers," he said. Nor are any plants going to be closing down, even after the company's sale, Erel promised.
Yachimovich (Labor ) personally attacked Dankner, the biggest controlling shareholder at IDB. "Dankner portrays himself as a leader," she said, saying he is one of the most powerful people in the business scene. "He donates NIS 100 million a year, which come from the pockets of the shareholders. It is no wonder that mayors sing his praises because he donates a lot to them. But donations of NIS 100 million a year are peanuts compared with the destruction and devastation that the sale of Makhteshim-Agan to the Chinese would cause."
She called on Dankner to show a sense of "national responsibility," and not to sell the company for profit. She also said that he must not be left in peace: "This will not be allowed to pass quietly. With one hand Nochi gives a penny in charity, and with the other he wipes out peoples' living. He is a terminator of jobs. The wage cost of the top five executives at IDB was NIS 28 million in 2009. When it comes to paying the CEO, anything is possible. The sky's the limit," Yachimovich said.
IDB commented in response that as usual, Yachimovich was indulging in populist ignorance, showing no understanding of the issue at stake and not speaking to the point. Since the Second Lebanon War IDB has donated almost NIS 400 million to towns in the periphery and the Galilee, the group said in a statement, showing caring and deep personal commitment in each and every place.
Dankner had allies on the committee, one being Miri Regev (Likud ) and another being Amnon Cohen of Shas. "I heard what they say about him," Regev said, "but he wants to reach an agreement that will satisfy the workers. The responsibility for developing the Negev isn't Nochi Dankner's."
Cohen said that if the company wants to sell, the deal will happen, and there was nothing to do about it. "I would like to thank Dankner for the trucks of food he paid for during the Second Lebanon War," he said.
Haim Oron (Meretz ) suggested that the IDB group settle for selling 49% of Makhteshim-Agan and remain in control, including for national reasons. "If the Chinese buy 70% of the stock, simple logic says they would have no reason to keep the plant over time. Without jobs, there is no anchor in the Negev."
Shraga Brosh, head of the Manufacturers Association, said Makhteshim-Agan isn't the disease, it's the symptom. "The real problem is the sustained damage to the competitiveness of Israeli manufacturing," he said. Costs constantly rise and the dollar falls, and meanwhile, the pinpoint issue of Makhteshim is bound to be resolved, Brosh said.
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