Civil Servants' Strike to Shut Ben-Gurion Airport for 3 Hours

Tax Authority staff starting slowdown too, as unions protest layoffs at postal service.

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Airplanes parked at Ben-Gurion International Airport.Credit: Nir Keidar

Ben-Gurion Airport will be shut for three hours Thursday as growing numbers of civil servants have begun staging labor actions to support postal workers protesting massive layoffs at Israel Post.

Israel Airport Authority staff will walk off their jobs at 11 A.M. Thursday, preventing takeoffs and leaving travelers who land without any way of collecting their luggage. The IAA said it would seek to move up some takeoffs, while others would be delayed until after 2 P.M., and advised travelers to check for updates on the websites of the authority or the airlines.

Most of the labor actions seemed aimed at depriving the government of revenues from taxes and fees. Most critically, employees at the Tax Authority will cease work because computer staff are striking. Clerks will not accept tax payments nor will people selling used cars be able to transfer ownership at either post offices or at the Transportation Ministry.

“Civil servants are an inseparable part of the just fight by postal workers, who are going to find themselves without any employment security,” Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation said on Wednesday.

The labor actions are “directed against any exploitation of workers, whether its contract workers or the intent to dismiss and replace dedicated employees with temps,” Nissenkorn said.

Postal protests

Postal workers have been taking a range of labor actions over the last two weeks to protest plans to lay off some 1,500 of Israel Post’s 7,000 on the payroll. The government says it needs to cut costs after chronic losses of 100 million shekels ($27.5 milion) or more a year.

With this year’s red ink expected to reach 185 million shekels, Israel Post, which is structured as a government company, will run out of cash in 18 months and be unable to pay interest to bondholders or salaries.

“No one can possibly dismiss 1,500 permanent postal staff and replace them with poorly paid and contract workers just because the cost of employing them is cheaper,” said Pinchas Idan, chairman of the IAA worker’s committee, explaining why airport employees were walking off their jobs.

The treasury has countered that the 1,500 postal employees do not have permanent status but are only candidates to receive it. Laying them off, it contends, does not violate any collective labor agreements.

Thursday’s labor actions follow a decision Tuesday by Health Ministry staff throughout the country to stop conducting inspections of imported food and medicines. On Wednesday, the Enforcement and Collection Authority, which enforces court orders such as collecting debts and making repossessions, stopped working and closed offices.

Postal workers have not yet called a strike, but they have been taking various steps to protest the layoffs, most recently refusing to collect fines for the courts, police or local authorities. They also blocked mail to embassies in Israel.

Finance Ministry officials are due to meet with union leaders on Sunday for the first time over the dispute at Israel Post, with Communications Minister Gilad Erdan likely to join. Eyal Gabbai, a former government official now acting as a representative for Israel Post bondholders, will also attend.

The two sides were ordered by the Jerusalem District Court two weeks ago to open talks on the government’s recovery plan for Israel Post and report back in 45 days. The talks are scheduled despite the fact that postal workers have continued their work stoppages in violation of the demand the treasury usually makes of civil servants, before entering into negotiations with them.

And the Foreign Ministry staffers are off too

Foreign Ministry staff also began striking on Wednesday, for reasons unconnected to the postal workers’ grievances. The ministry staff are protesting the failure of the government to sign a new collective agreement even though an agreement in principle was reached months ago that would raise salaries and improve work conditions.

On Wednesday they shut several units of the ministry, including the director general’s bureau without warning.

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