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More than 20 flights were canceled or delayed yesterday when employees of the ground services company Aerohandling initiated a labor slowdown at Ben-Gurion International Airport to protest working conditions.

The labor dispute pits flight attendants and ground services employees, aided by the Histadrut labor federation, against the company's management. Employees say Aerohandling is not paying them for holidays, vacations or night hours, as required by law. They also say they are forced to work 14- or 15-hour shifts, sometimes for 10 consecutive days.

Aerohandling managing director Rafi Matalon denied the charges, saying his door was always open to hear staff members' complaints.

Along with Laufer Aviation- GHI and Quality Airport Services, Aerohandling is one of three franchisees contracted by the Israel Airports Authority to handle ground services at Ben-Gurion airport.

Aerohandling works with foreign airlines operating at the airport, providing check-in, luggage, technical and VIP services. Its 170 employees process an average of 1,500 passengers daily.

The current labor protests began in June, when 64 flight attendants and ground service operators lodged a formal complaint with the Histadrut. On June 30, the Histadrut informed the company's management that the workers were organizing under the labor federation's auspices.

Histadrut sources said two employee representatives were fired the same day. The federation announced a labor dispute July 14, urging the company's management to begin negotiations immediately.

"This is a management that fails to recognize the needs of its employees, and that violates the rights of the country's workers," said Avi Edri, chairman of the Histadrut's transportation workers union.