If there is anyone who is trying to delay the changes in the economy, it is the Histadrut," said Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with Haaretz five years ago. "What are they thinking in the Histadrut, that they'll send us back to Clerksville, Histadrutistan?" said the great warrior from 2004, who has since turned into a little wimp in 2009, when he signed the surrender document called the "package deal" with the chairman of Histadrutistan, Ofer Eini.
In 2004, Netanyahu tried to break the power of the Histadrut labor federation by dividing Israel's ports into three separate entities that would compete with one another. Now he is willing to give the same Histadrut powers and authority that even the historic Labor Party - in all its incarnations - never wanted to give. After all, Labor behaved responsibly toward the economy, while Netanyahu is acting hastily out of desire to hang on to his job.
Among the changes in labor laws the Histadrut has proposed are a few worthy of adoption. For example, the proposal to make withholding wages a criminal offense subject to a prison term. Or forbidding employers to fire workers while they are ill. Or increasing the number of days off allowed for an employee whose spouse or child has cancer.
But the proposal that really raised the fierce opposition of the private business sector is the section that allows a Histadrut representative to enter any workplace during working hours, without any limitation on the number of visits, to persuade employees to establish a union and join the Histadrut. The moment a third of employees agree, the Histadrut then becomes the "representative organization" for them, and the employer will be required to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement - and life at work will change completely.
Of course, you cannot refuse workers the right to organize of their own free will, but in this case the law levies a NIS 50,000 to NIS 200,000 fine on an employer who denies entry to a Histadrut representative. And if the employer does not negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, he will go to jail. Is it right to force someone to negotiate? Where is the freedom of contracts? Where is managerial autonomy?
The business sector is made up of two layers. One-third of the business sector is made up of the large, monopolistic companies, which have strong unions and are controlled by the Histadrut. These include the Israel Electric Corporation, ports, the Airports Authority, banks and large industrial plants along with the big supermarket chains. But two-thirds of the business sector operates completely differently. Industries like high tech, electronics, commerce and services, which have tens of thousands of companies, many of which have been in business for decades, have no unions and no Histadrut.
This is the efficient and productive segment of the Israeli economy, the part that creates employment and economic growth. These are the companies that put us at the forefront of world technology.
If this legislation passes, "The result will be that high-tech businees will transfer their knowledge centers abroad and investors will not be willing to invest here," said Yehuda Zisapel, chairman of the Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries. The association of venture capital funds in Israel said, "No Israeli or foreign fund will invest in a company with a union." Motorola only recently left Italy because of similar problems with labor relations there.
Personal contracts are the way such businesses work. They are based on talent, knowledge and effort - and that is exactly the opposite of what happens in the public sector, in the electric company, ports and banks. It will also be impossible to grant outstanding employees options and shares if there are unions, which will demand artificial equality for everyone.
High-tech companies face tough competition from the entire world. They cannot allow themselves the luxury of raising wages for all employees without exceptions, and also keep 2,000 unnecessary workers on the payroll - as happens for example, in the IEC.
If high-tech companies could not fire some of their workers quickly now and cut the salaries of others at the time of this international crisis, they would collapse and bring about the firings of many thousands more. After all, this is what happened to Koor, Solel Boneh and Hasneh, all Histadrut companies, who tried to pay high salaries irrespectively, until they collapsed in the 1980s and fired 30,000 workers under the management of Histadrutistan.
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