Ofer Eini - David Bachar - 07112011
Histadrut head Ofer Eini meeting with union leaders last night, ahead of a major planned strike set for Monday. Photo by David Bachar
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The Histadrut labor federation has completed preparations for a general strike scheduled to start this morning at 6 A.M. in support of contract workers. The strike will last indefinitely. The Histadrut plans to shut down the entire public sector, including all government ministries and local authorities. In addition, the banks and Tel Aviv Stock Exchange will also join the strike.

The Histadrut, the umbrella organization for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, wants the government to hire some 250,000 contract workers, who have inferior conditions compared to civil servants employed directly by the government.

The National Labor Court met last night in Jerusalem, and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz were both present. Three employers organizations, led by the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, had submitted a petition against the strike. The Labor Court had yet to rule as of press time. The petition stated that the proposed strike would cost the Israeli economy an estimated NIS 330 million a day.

Earlier in the evening Steinitz and Eini met but were unable to reach any agreement. If the court does not prevent the strike, and there are no results from the behind-the-scenes negotiations between the treasury and the Histadrut, serious disruptions of essential services are expected Monday.

The ports, Ben-Gurion International Airport, all local authorities and government offices, government companies, post offices, National Insurance Institute, Employment Service and other government bodies will all be closed. The administrative departments at the universities will also be closed and university students will also go on strike in solidarity with the Histadrut's struggle for the rights of subcontracted workers. The Technion will not be on strike, but all other universities will.

The public housing firms such as Halamish, Amigur and Prazot will also be on strike, as will Educational Television, military industries, the Mifal Hapayis national lottery , theaters, municipal and state museums, Na'amat and Wizo day care centers - and Kupat Holim Clalit clinics will be functioning on a limited, emergency basis, but the doctors will not be on strike.

Schools will be operating normally.

The bus companies will be only slightly affected, since most of their employees do not belong to the Histadrut. The banks will close, though automatic teller machines should work - until they run out of money. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange will be closed, as well as the Israel Securities Authority.

Eini rejected a compromise proposal from National Labor Court President Judge Nili Arad for Histadrut and Finance Ministry representatives to conduct negotiations in coming weeks under the auspices of the court, in an attempt to reach an agreement on the issue for the contract workers.

Eini left in anger while treasury budgets director Gal Hershkovits was speaking. "How much can I hear of that stupidity," said Eini as he left. "Those workers work all day for NIS 4,000 [a month]. I hope the court will not harm the. For years they have had no hope. That is the meaning of social justice," said Eini.

Arad's proposal was to place two groups of workers at the center of the negotiations: cleaning workers and those who work "shoulder to shoulder," those employees who work for contractors but perform the same jobs as permanent employees they work with.

Eini and Steinitz met with Arad in her chambers. Eini turned down the proposal after Steinitz refused to agree to transfer large numbers of contract workers to regular employment contracts. Instead, Steinitz offered improved salary conditions, increased enforcement of employment laws and stricter punishments for employers who violate labor laws.

"There is no good news for the citizens of Israel," said Eini after the meeting. "We will not allow an attempt to miss out on the opportunity. The treasury even reverted to its previous offers," he said.

The Histadrut is demanding to drastically reduce the number of Israeli workers who are employed through labor contractors. Most receive inferior terms of employment that sometimes violate labor laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Histadrut to call off the strike at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning. "It is possible to find a creative solution to the issue of contract workers without exceeding the budgetary framework," he said. "The solution must be such that it will not harm the Israeli economy and will take into account the global crisis. I am aware of the distress of the contract workers in Israel," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu called on the Histadrut to cancel the strike, which would wreak havoc on travelers and commuters. "I believe it is possible to find a responsible and just solution for the issue of temporary laborers [supplied by employment agencies]," Netanyahu said on Army Radio.

Later in the day in a meeting with with Steinitz, Netanyahu asked him to find a creative solution to prevent the strike. Steinitz said there was no cause for the strike and a solution could be found - but the Histadrut was set on a strike.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said the struggle on behalf of the contract workers is the most important battle for Israeli society. She called Steinitz and the treasury "liars," saying they refuse to recognize the existence of large numbers of Israeli citizens.

"All the government has to do is employ the workers directly and pay them the fees the contractors now put into their own pockets," said Yachimovich. She called on those in support of social justice to join the battle.