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A ray of optimism has descended on the ailing Pri Hagalil fruit-and-vegetable processing company in the Galilee after reports that the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain has expressed interest in buying it.

But there was bad news for employees at the Off Haemek poultry-processing company, where management said yesterday the factory would close on Thursday and 200 workers would be laid off. This move, however, was postponed after Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini intervened.

Some of the employees have worked for the company for 30 to 40 years and have families with as many as eight children. "The economic crisis is deepening and people are saving even on basic supplies like poultry," one worker said.

Off Haemek is a cooperative owned by kibbutzim in the Jezreel Valley and has worked with the Tnuva fresh-foods cooperative and the Tiv Ta'am supermarket chain.

"There is no other factory in the area that can provide manual labor to so many people. For us there is no other solution if the workers are thrown out," said Motti Sa'ar, head of the union at the factory.

The head of the Pri Hagalil employees' union, Moti Haziza, said that "we are a bit more optimistic today. But it isn't over till it's over, and we're not celebrating before we see how this matter is concluded."

His skepticism was well founded as the news broke yesterday about Off Haemek, based in Ramat Ishai.

"There are more workers who are suffering. We feel for the workers of Off Haemek and we pray for their success and that they will retain their livelihoods. This is the most painful experience," Haziza said. He called on workers throughout the country to show solidarity during the current economic crisis.

Regarding the interest in Pri Hagalil, based in the town of Hatzor Haglilit, the Histadrut said that "the Histadrut and the workers know nothing about this, and in any case no acquisition will be made without court authorization."

Eini will meet with union representatives and officials from Bank Leumi today to try to reach understandings before the matter goes to court for a decision. Union and lenders went to court last week over whether Pri Hagalil should be put into receivership, which has many of the workers concerned that this would translate into mass layoffs and the closing of the plant.