Israel's General Strike Called Off as State, Unions Reach Deal

Agreement comes as a strike that had paralyzed the country's public sector over the employment conditions of hundreds of thousands of subcontracted workers in Israel entered its fifth day.

Shortly after entering its fifth day, a general strike that has paralyzed Israel's public sector was called off on Sunday, following a reported agreement between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation.

The newly reached deal includes raising subcontracted workers minimum monthly wage to NIS 4,500, as well as an improvement in their general working conditions, such as employer participation in workers' savings, holiday gifts, larger employer participation in pensions' savings, and subsidized meals.

Garbage piling up on the streets of Tel Aviv.
Alex Levac

In addition, the state pledged to add 120 inspectors meant to enforce the subcontracted workers' rights. In return, the Histadrut pledges to refrain from general strikes for 3 years.

The announcement was made after talks between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut resumed late on Saturday night and continued all night long, with no agreement being reached.

About half the garbage in the big cities has not been collected since Wednesday. (In some communities, garbage is picked up by private firms.) In the greater Tel Aviv area alone, more than 10,000 tons of refuse line the streets.

The rain has increased decomposition of food waste. In addition to the stench, the garbage produces bacteria, parasites and disease-producing rodents.

The fact that some households, and particularly businesses in major commercial areas, are not recycling packaging nor sealing their garbage properly has exacerbated the situation.

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Talks broke down Friday over two main issues: which subcontracted workers would be hired directly by employers, and the treasury's demand that there be no strikes for the next four years over the issue of outsourced employees.

Of the hundreds of thousands of subcontracted workers in Israel, only about 800 are likely to be directly hired, mostly in the health-care system.

No attempt was made to deal with outsourced social workers, psychologists, teachers and others, which could mean they might strike next week, even if an agreement is signed.

Cleaners and security guards will not be hired directly in most cases, but they will receive a 20 percent hike in wages and social benefits, increasing their pay to that of their counterparts who work directly for the government.

The Finance Ministry's budget chief, Gal Hershkovitz, said Saturday night at the start of the meeting with Histadrut representatives, "We have reached an excellent agreement with the Histadrut, which includes a significant improvement in wages, conditions and enforcement for cleaners and security guards."

Hershkovitz also said the government's no-strike demand over outsourcing for four years was limited to cleaners and security guards.

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