Train Service Disrupted Across Israel Following Workers' Sanctions

Israel Railways says company will turn to labor courts after talks with rail workers' union break down; workers protesting plans to outsource maintenance on new trains

Train service was severely disrupted across Israel on Thursday, as a union representing Israel Railways employees imposed sanctions after talks between labor and management on planned structural reforms broke down late Wednesday night.

Rail travel is usually very heavy on Thursdays, so disruptions to the schedule have a great impact on passengers.

Israel Railways

Both the Histadrut labor federation and the trade union representing the IR workers called on train riders to use other forms of transportation. The unions said they would restore regular service in the event of a security emergency.

Late Wednesday, Israel Railways management said the company would turn to the labor courts immediately if the sanctions affect rail service. The Tel Aviv District Labor Court called on the workers and the Histadrut earlier this week to continue talks for the next two weeks.

The workers are protesting plans by the transportation and finance ministries to outsource maintenance on new trains to the trains' manufacturers.

At yesterday's meeting IR management, with state support, offered workers an extensive safety net in an effort to eliminate their opposition to the move. According to a document obtained by TheMarker, management promised that maintenance on existing rolling stock would remain in-house for the next 20 years.

The state promised to allow the hiring of additional maintenance workers during that period, as IR will require manufacturers to use IR labor for various tasks.

Maintenance workers who will not reach retirement age in 20 years' time would be given other jobs in the company at the same salary. Alternatively, they could take early retirement under conditions approved by the union.

"Israel Railways came to the negotiations to open a transparent dialogue ... but it became clear that the local union and the Histadrut representatives had come ... to strengthen the union and prove who controls the company," Israel Railways said in a statement after the negotiations broke down on Wednesday.

"This is a principled fight against privatizing the work and bringing in contract workers," the chairman of the Transport Workers trade union in the Histadrut, Avi Edri, said yesterday. Edri added that this summer's social protest proved that the public understands that such moves are a source of social injustice.