Operations at Ben-Gurion International Airport were disrupted on Thursday morning as workers protest plans to slash the number of its permanent employees due to a drop in air traffic during the coronavirus pandemic.
At least three flights at Ben-Gurion, Israel’s main international airport near Tel Aviv, have been delayed and others are expected to be affected as well by the protest.
About 25,000 passengers were expected to pass through the airport on Thursday, 12,000 of them on outgoing flights.
The disruptions are affecting both departing and arriving flights and as of 2 P.M. air traffic in and out of the Ramon airport outside of Eilat is due to halt.
The Israel Airports Authority has sought a court restraining order to halt the labor action, which is affecting smaller airports as well. The local airfield at Rosh Pina in the north ceased operations Thursday morning, including services provided to fire-fighting aircraft.
The slowdown follows an airports authority decision to put 400 permanent employees on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus pandemic. The workers committee opposes the step, saying it would lead to a serious shortage of personnel.
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Prior to the pandemic, the airports authority employed some 4,000 staff people, including permanent and temporary workers. But COVID-related restrictions on air travel cut traffic at Ben-Gurion and elsewhere, and half of the staff was put on unpaid leave. Since then, some of the workers have returned to their jobs and others have been laid off.
The airports authority says it doesn’t have the cash cushion it once had because the Finance Ministry reallocated some 4 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) of its funding reserves for other government purposes prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.