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The Knesset plenum yesterday approved the preliminary reading of a bill designed to limit the right of civil servants to launch strike action. The bill was supported by 42 MKs, with 37 voting against and one abstaining.

According to the bill, public sector employees will not be entitled to strike until all the affected workers have been given the chance to participate in a secret ballot, and a majority of them vote in favor of the strike. According to the proposed legislation, any strike not approved by a majority of the workers would be considered unauthorized.

The bill also states that all public-sector strikes will be illegal in the 30 days before a general election for the Knesset.

According to the bill's author, Likud lawmaker Ruhama Avraham, the public would have been spared much suffering had her proposal become law several months ago.

The Knesset also approved the preliminary reading of a bill put forward by MKs Yuri Stern, Michael Nudelman and Aryeh Eldar (National Religious Party), calling for compulsory arbitration in the case of civil service labor disputes.

Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Michael Ratzon (Likud) announced that the government would put its weight behind the proposal and asked for the private bill to be frozen until the government has time to draft its own legislation on the issue. Ratzon said that the government had decided to back the bill at its preliminary stage since it wanted to voice its belief in the principle that public sector strikes must only be launched as a last resort and should not be entered into lightly.

Histadrut labor federation chairman, MK Amir Peretz (One Nation), said that "it is a black day for democracy in Israel. This unrestrained display of power on the part of the treasury and the Knesset is part of a process of destruction of society and Israelis' social rights."

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet again this afternoon with Histadrut labor federation chairman, MK Amir Peretz (One Nation), in another attempt to bridge the gaps between the side on the government's planned pension reform and its structural changes to the civil service.

In response to the announcement that another meeting between Netanyahu and Peretz had been scheduled, the Histadrut announced that it would reopen the exceptions committees that it closed down for the first time yesterday.

In a separate development, the treasury will deduct a total of NIS 12 million from the salaries of striking civil servants, due to be paid into their account today.