Labor Dispute Keeps 14 Cargo Ships From Docking in Ashdod

Workers strike is over improper employment of labor leader's associate.

Fourteen cargo ships waited outside Ashdod Port yesterday, barred from entering the harbor due to labor sanctions initiated by port employees last week. The work dispute is part of an ongoing conflict between Alon Hasson, head of the port's powerful trade union, and Gideon Siterman, chairman of the Ashdod Port Company. In addition to the sanctions taken at the waterline, Siterman's office staff refused to answer phones yesterday.

Haaretz has learned that one of the issues in the dispute between the two men has to do with the personal assistant to Ashdod Port Company CEO Yehoshua (Shuki ) Sagis. Sagis is considered a member of Hassan's circle. The assistant was previously an aide to Avi Edri, chairman of the Transport Workers Union in the Histadrut labor federation, which gives unquestioned support to the Ashdod Port workers. Around two years ago the assistant married one of the port bosses. Protocol demands that she must leave her management position. Sagis continued to employ her, but recently the Ashdod Port Company board of directors voted that he must discontinue her job at the port.

In response the Ashdod Port Company said: "Last Thursday the management of the Ashdod Port appealed to the district labor court in the wake of the union local's decision to launch sanctions. In its appeal to the labor court management noted the grave damage being caused to third parties and the economy as a whole, as well as to the good name of the port. The union local is behaving irresponsibly and taking sanctions despite the fact that no labor dispute has been declared, and despite its representatives' obligation to maintain industrial calm. The Ashdod Port Company regrets the union's decision to carry out sanctions and intends to use every legal means available to return to normal work." Hasson could not be reached for comment.

About three weeks ago a new collective bargaining agreement was signed, after six years of negotiations, giving workshop employees in the port pay hikes of between NIS 3,500 and NIS 4,000 per month.

As a result of the new contract, the salaries of 140 of the port's nearly 1,300 workers will increase, at a cost of NIS 9 million a year to the state. The wage agreement ended nearly six months of sanctions by the affected employees that disrupted Israel's international trade.

Ilya Melnikov