Strike Continues as Unions, Treasury Wrangle

At 10 A.M. the Histadrut and treasury are due to brief National Labor Court about the talks' progress. The court's president will then decide whether to allow the Histadrut to continue the action.

The general strike crippling the country will enter its third day today, after the Histadrut and Finance Ministry failed to reach an agreement over subcontracted workers by last night.

The parties will resume negotiations at the labor federation's Tel Aviv headquarters this morning.

General strike Feb. 8, 2012 (Moti Milrod)
Moti Milrod

At 10 A.M. the Histadrut and treasury are due to brief the National Labor Court about the talks' progress. The court's president, Judge Nili Arad, will then decide whether to allow the Histadrut to continue the action.

The strike no longer includes Ben-Gurion International Airport and the ports.

Yesterday the parties seemed close to an agreement, especially after the airport resumed operations and treasury officials called a press conference at midday to present a deal reached with the Histadrut.

But as the day wore on it became clear the Histadrut and treasury were far from an agreement over workers subcontracted from personnel agencies. Both parties repeatedly asked Arad if they could put off their joint report to the court about the negotiations' progress.

Arad finally told the negotiators to brief her at 6 P.M. yesterday so she could decide on the strike's continuation by 7 P.M. But no progress was made by late last night.

According to the deal being hammered out, a few thousand out of 300,000 contract workers will become state employees, whose salaries and social benefits will improve significantly. These positions will be offered through tenders by the Finance Ministry's accountant general.

Also, 100 more inspectors will oversee the subcontracted workers' employment conditions.

By last night, one of the two stumbling blocks was how to categorize the contract workers holding the same positions as company workers at the same company or institution. These are the workers who will be directly employed once an agreement is signed.

The second issue regards the treasury's demand that the labor federation pledge to hold no strikes or labor disruptions over subcontracted workers from now on. The Histadrut rejected this demand out of hand.

"We intend to fight at many places to advance the idea of companies and organizations directly employing the subcontracted workers," Histadrut chief Ofer Eini said.

The treasury agreed yesterday that the state would directly employ a mere thousand of the 350,000 to 400,000 contract workers. Half the 1,000 workers are employed in the health system through personnel agencies. The state would also employ directly 150 cleaning workers, mainly in day care centers operated by the Social Affairs Ministry, and the Justice Ministry would directly hire 60 jurists.

The remaining subcontracted workers' terms would be equal to the company workers equivalent to them or the ones closest to them in job description. Contract workers' monthly wages will be NIS 4,500 - NIS 4,700 for a team leader - and they will receive social benefits as do direct employees. These include an employees' professional training fund, increased pension allocations of 20.5 percent, an additional recreation day a year, a gift for the holidays and subsidized meals.

The subcontracted workers who will be directly employed by the state are those doing work integral to their agency's operations.

Eini was furious about the treasury's efforts in deciding which jobs were integral. "The treasury prefers vague wording to make it harder for subcontracted workers to be directly employed," a Histadrut official said.