In Step Toward Reform, Israel to Build Two New Ports Without Consulting Workers

By issuing the tenders for the ports without input from the workers' committees, the Transportation Ministry is likely to provoke sanctions and extended strikes.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced Wednesday that tenders for the construction and operation of two new ports will be issued by July 1, signaling his intention to move forward with reforming Israel’s ports in a week of confrontational declarations on the issue.

The tenders will be issued simultaneously, but the jobs will be scheduled separately, with the government still to decide which port will open first. The Transportation Ministry will not consult the workers’ committees until after the tenders are completed, when it will ask them to weigh in on issues like upgrading existing ports and workers’ rights.

"I've decided to put an end to the situation of militant committees taking advantage of their power and receiving excessive privileges at the expense of the general public," said Katz. "The committees won't have a veto to prevent competition."

The new ports will be set up using the BOT (build, operate, transfer) method: A private company will build each port and operate it for predetermined period of time before transferring it to the state. Each port will cost about $1 billion to build, according to the Transportation Ministry.

One of the new facilities, to be called the Mifratz Port, will be built north of Haifa, while the other, the South Port, will be built north of the existing Ashdod Port. Both ports will be sheltered by extensions to existing seawalls and designed as deep-water ports, capable of accommodating huge ships arriving from the Far East.

The Transportation Ministry's refusal to hold talks with the workers committees before the tenders are issued will likely lead to work disruptions at the ports and possibly a general strike. In the event that the committees escalate sanctions or go on extended strike, the government will initiate the lightning enactment of a law mandating compulsory arbitration and a ban on strikes in essential services, including the ports.

The Israel Ports Development and Assets Company, meanwhile, is making preparations for a long strike. Its plans do not involve calling in the Israel Defense Forces or enlisting the services of foreign companies to run the ports but rather using smaller ports and overland border crossings instead of the main ports. Cargo could be unloaded at Israel Shipyards sites or Israel Electric Company facilities in Hadera or at Jordan's Aqaba Port where it could be shipped to neighboring Eilat.

Ilya Melnikov