Ashdod Port Workers Tweak Birth Certificates to Increase Pensions

Many older port workers are men born in Morocco. To revise their ages downward, they obtain a new birth certificate from the Moroccan authorities, which they present to the Interior Ministry.

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Some employees at Ashdod Port nearing retirement have their birth certificates revised so they can stay on the job and increase their pensions when they retire, says a source at the port familiar with the matter.

Many older port workers are men born in Morocco. To revise their ages downward, they obtain a new birth certificate from the Moroccan authorities, which they present to the Interior Ministry.

“People know about it,” the source told Haaretz. “Wheeler-dealers go around the port offering this service. When people get close to 67, they travel to Morocco and get a revised birth certificate, usually downward by three years. They come back to Israel and ask a court to approve the change.”

The source said the next stop is the Interior Ministry, and the last stop is the port’s human resources department.

“The port can file an objection, but it usually doesn’t despite the financial ramifications,” the source said, adding that most workers who seek to lower their ages are part of company’s operations segment. The chairman of the operations workers is Alon Hassan, a dominant figure on the Ashdod Port labor scene.

The source said the phenomenon was particularly common among operations workers, who see the revision as a way of securing a higher pension because “a good part of their income is based on bonuses that don’t count toward their pensions.”

The Finance Ministry, which is responsible for Ashdod Port, partly because the port is a government company, said last week it had not heard of this practice.

The port declined to provide precise figures on the number of years employees have asked to revise their ages downward, the countries of origin involved and which workers’ committees they belong to.

“Over the last seven years, up to a few months ago, only six workers have asked to have their ages revised, and only in two cases have they been revised,” Ashdod Port said in a statement. “A number of other workers have approached the court to have their ages revised. Most have withdrawn their requests, and regarding the others, the court has not yet responded.” The port said it bases its actions on data provided by the Interior Ministry and the employees’ ID cards.

However, Haaretz has learned that Ashdod Port CEO Yehoshua Sagis, known to be close to Hassan, has said the age-change request is a new phenomenon.

Ashdod Port employs 1,300 people, who belong to 10 different workers’ committees. The average annual pay for a port worker has increased in recent years to around NIS 470,000 in 2011, more than three times the average wage in Israel. The best conditions and highest wages go to the port’s most veteran employees, who make up 40 percent of the port’s workforce.

Despite the high wages, the port continues to suffer from labor sanctions. For example, sanctions that began in May last year continued into the first week of January this year. The more than 100 days of sanctions have caused heavy damage to the economy, since the port is Israel’s main gateway for international shipping.

Dozens of ships were delayed outside the port recently due to a labor dispute between Ashdod Port Chairman Gideon Sitterman and warehouse workers demanding more pay for the day’s second shift. The warehouse workers’ go-slow operation came after months of sanctions by repairmen demanding raises of at least NIS 3,500 to NIS 4,000 a month for streamlining and working a second shift, a demand that was granted by the treasury’s supervisor of wages.

More sanctions are expected when the 2010 wage agreement expires in March and wage-hike demands are made.

Many of the younger generation at the port are relatives of veteran workers; the port has the highest nepotism rate of any government company. 

Ashdod Port.Credit: Ilya Melnikov