After a decade of trying and a lawsuit against the state, seven of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal drivers have convinced the Prime Minister's Office to boost their salaries by thousands of shekels per month.
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The prime minister has six drivers available to him. They are civil servants selected from the pool of drivers employed by the Prime Minister's Office and with a separate contract reflecting their trusted position vis-à-vis the prime minister.
The drivers began the campaign to increase their salaries about ten years ago, arguing that they were part of the prime minister's security staff and that they were specially trained like members of the Shin Bet. In 2005, the Finance Ministry approved giving them a "risk bonus."
The drivers received a pay raise of NIS 1,018 per month, while government minister's drivers got a smaller monthly raise of NIS 237. This brought the total monthly salary of the prime minister's drivers to an average of NIS 12,000 per month. Each driver also receives a car as part of his job – a benefit worth thousands of shekels per month.
In 2010, the six drivers – along with a driver who used to work for Netanyahu and now works for another government minister – demanded the prime minister grant them contracts like those given to Shin Bet members. This included a pay raise of NIS 5,000 per month, retroactive payments of this new salary from when they began driving for the prime minister, an increase in their pension payments from two percent to three percent of their salary per year and the option for early retirement with a pension.
But the Shin Bet is entirely separate from the civil service. In recent years, Shin Bet members have been employed in various roles, including as drivers, for a maximum of nine years. In contrast, civil servants, like the prime minister's drivers, receive tenure.
Netanyahu passed the issue on to Eyal Gabai, then the PMO's director general. In a meeting at the PMO in August 2011, it was agreed that the drivers' duties should be transferred to the Shin Bet and the civil service drivers should be given the opportunity to join the Shin Bet. But the drivers rejected the idea for fear they would not be accepted and the proposal was shelved.
After further discussion, Gabai decided, despite the objections of the Shin Bet, Civil Service Commission and Finance Ministry, to meet the drivers' demands. To bypass the opposed agencies, he took the unusual step of formulating a proposal – the wording of which reached Haaretz – to be approved by a cabinet resolution. But Gabai ended up resigning before the proposal reached the cabinet and nothing came of it.
Last April, the seven drivers filed a lawsuit against the state in the Tel Aviv Labor Court claiming they had been discriminated against in comparison to other employees doing the same job. In its defense, the state argued the driver's salaries could not be compared to those of Shin Bet members, since Shin Bet drivers have other responsibilities, do not have a committee and are subject to the intelligence agency's strict code of conduct.
Haaretz has learned that the prime minister recently instructed his office to reach a settlement with the drivers. The PMO and the drivers have agreed to a compromise that includes a significant increase in the drivers' salaries, but the increased pension payments, estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, remain a sticking point.
In response to a request for comment, the PMO said: "These details are incorrect. In contrast to what has been claimed, no such agreement has been arrived at with the prime minister's drivers. The drivers filed a lawsuit against the state at the Labor Court, and the two parties are in contact. For the moment, there is no agreement between both sides, and the court will be the one to decide the matter of the salaries."