Israeli airline employees demonstrated Friday outside the home of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to protest the expected opening of the airline industry to foreign competition.
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The government's plan to implement the so-called Open Skies agreement with the European Union would expose the Israeli aviation market to competition from European airlines, increasing the number of weekly flights from Israel to Europe and driving down prices.
Israel's three airlines, El Al, Arkia and Israir, fear a blow to their bottom lines. In reaction, the airlines employee unions announced a strike, starting Sunday, when the government is expected to reach a decision on the agreement.
During the demonstrations, Lapid went outside to speak to the protestors.
There is no intention to harm employees, he said.
The finance minister then invited the heads of the three companies' employee unions and representatives of the pilots' union into his home for a conversation. During the meeting, Lapid promised that he would look into their claims and suggested that the cabinet discussion to approve the Open Skies agreement, expected to take place on Sunday, might be postponed.
The meeting went fine, said Asher Edri, chairman of the El-Al employees union, to TheMarker. The finance minister understands us and the needs of the Israeli airlines.
We explained that we support competition, we just want protection so the foreign airlines don't take us apart," he said. "Today there already are 'open skies.' For example, Turkish Airlines flies hundreds of thousands of travelers from Ben-Gurion International Airport through Istanbul to the Far East and the United States."
However, Edri was highly critical of the transportation minister.
Yisrael Katz sold us out and lied to us before the elections and isn't carrying out what he promised, said Edri. We asked Lapid to protect us: 20,000 airlines employees and our families. I felt that [Lapid] understands us and I believe our activism will bear fruit.
Lapid didn't promise anything, but he said he would look into the matter with the transportation minister and we would receive an answer," Edri added. "The strike set for Sunday still stands."