Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz took off Monday for China, where he has several important meetings. He will presumably be welcomed in that huge country with the requisite level of respect and honor. Perhaps that will be some small consolation for the dirt he's been forced to eat recently by Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini.
A while ago Eini made a fool of Steinitz when he forced him to raise the minimum wage. After that he shut down the economy on behalf of subcontracted workers, extracting some NIS 800 million from the treasury. Then Eini supported the strike at Israel Railways and the disruptions, that continue even now. And this week, he firmly backed the port workers, who shut the maritime gateways to the country to extort wage hikes and increased pension payments. And Eini's sword is still drawn.
Eini maintains a very flexible double standard. When he came out unequivocally on behalf of the Pri Hagalil workers, he said, "The owners behaved brutally and coarsely when they shut down the factory. This is true abuse of the workers. The Histadrut views this thuggish step very gravely. If there's a problem with the government, let them resolve it through negotiations. The owners must open the plant immediately." Fighting words indeed.
But on the very same day Eini supported the ports strike, taking the opposite position. Eini said the workers who had shut the country's gates were totally justified. He didn't demand that they enter into negotiations with the treasury and didn't call their actions brutal, coarse or hooliganism. Nor did he claim that they were abusing the Israeli people.
Just be aware that every single one of us pays a "port tax," which manifests itself in higher prices. Because when there are sanctions, disruptions and strikes day in, day out, the cost of importing goes up sharply and prices skyrocket.
Eini's people told us the port workers merely want to protect their pensions. They want their money managed externally, so that even if the ports get into trouble, management won't be able to dip into their pension funds. This is a legitimate position, one that the treasury is prepared to accept, though there is disagreement on the details and the accounting.
But for this you don't shut down a port. Even the union knows that. The workers committee shut down the ports over totally different demands, which were only discussed in the negotiating room. The workers demanded that the treasury not intervene with the "production councils" that determine worker bonuses. These are parity committees, which are manned by two representatives of management and two members of the workers committee. (After all, at the ports there is no management without the workers committee. )
These union people determine the rate of the bonuses, and thus also the salaries. Since management wants industrial quiet, they are generally willing to give in to the workers' demands - that is, pay high bonuses for low output. The treasury objects to this because it results in an uncontrollable growth in wages - and that is the heart of the dispute.
For example, the workers committee in Ashdod is demanding that veteran workers in the workshop get an NIS 7,000 monthly increment as a bonus. We're talking here about people making an average of NIS 30,000 a month. At Haifa Port, they are demanding to lower the salary at which a worker starts getting the "steak bonus" - a payment in lieu of restaurant coupons that were previously given to the workers. There they also want to party in restaurants, and why not? Are Haifa's restaurants any worse than those in Ashdod?
The workers committee also wants to return to the good old way of calculating pensions - according to the salaries of the worker's last three years at work (when his salary is presumably its highest ), and not based on his average salary over all his years of employment. That, of course, was a corrupt method, which would cause the pension fund to collapse. But at the ports they aren't worried: first they'll get their inflated pensions, and then they'll strike so the state will have to cover the deficits.
It would be worthwhile for Steinitz to take a break from his meetings in China and do some soul-searching. Did he do the right thing by making Eini feel like he was part of the ruling class, giving him the right to come and go in the corridors of power, agreeing to bimonthly roundtable discussions and increasing the strength and status of the Histadrut chairman? Was he right to hug Eini, call him his "loyal partner," and give him a series of accomplishments and laws that hurt the economy and prevented important reforms?
We see that the monster has turned on its creator. It has kicked Steinitz, smashed the roundtable and harmed every Israeli.
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