Benjamin Netanyahu - GPO - 27.12.2011
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the National Bible Quiz for Adults, Dec. 27, 2011. Photo by GPO
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may intervene in the crisis over negotiations between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation over the outsourcing of workers to manpower agencies, Treasury officials said. The labor confederation has threatened a general strike on Wednesday over the issue following a four-hour strike in November.

Over the weekend, National Labor Court President Nili Arad announced that, as of Wednesday of this week, the court order that had barred the Histradrut from striking would be withdrawn. She limited the duration of strike action at Ben-Gurion International Airport, however, to six hours, and also ordered representatives from the government, the Histadrut and the private business sector, along with the Union of Local Authorities, to engage in intensive talks over the next three days.

Arad ordered the parties to return to court on Wednesday, even if the strike proceeds that day, to report on the status of negotiations. This is seen as an indication of her willingness to intervene in the talks if there is no progress and to limit the duration of a strike. Finance Ministry officials are expected to decide today to have the state appeal Arad's ruling allowing the strike to go ahead. Ministry sources estimate the damage to the private and public sectors from a strike at NIS 2 billion per day.

There is currently a wide disparity in the positions of the entities involved in the talks. The Histadrut is demanding that the parties agree as a matter of principle that some of the 350,000 to 400,000 workers in various sectors of the economy who are employed through manpower agencies would no longer be outsourced. Instead they would be employed directly by the employer where they work.

Sources at the Histradrut said they don't expect the transition from outsourcing to direct employment to be made all at once. But they argue that the process must begin, and the principle must be recognized.

The Finance Ministry is strongly opposed to hiring contract workers as direct employees of national and local governments and government corporations. The ministry has instead proposed that the salary and employment terms of outsourced workers be improved.

The Histadrut was making it a priority to move cleaning staff from the payrolls of manpower agencies to the government payroll, one Finance Ministry official noted, because they are the weakest segment of the population. The official countered, however, that "cleaning staff are not directly hired by employers in any efficiently-run Western country."

He said the state should only directly employ individuals whose professions are what he called "part of its core operations" and this does not include cleaning staff. He warned that if the precedent is set for cleaning workers, other people whose work is not a core activity, such as security guards and gardeners, would also have to be employed directly and then other groups of workers would demand similar treatment. The official also noted that Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini had been given an opening for the direct employment of cleaning workers in the private sector. He pointed out the expressed willingness of the body representing private=sector employers - the Coordinating Office of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations - to hire long-term, full-time staff.