A Source of Hypocrisy

Anyone who still claims that the summer protests didn't achieve anything is wrong, big-time.

Daphni Leef and Itzik Shmuli can hold their heads high today. Without the summer protests they led last summer, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini would not have mobilized the large unions for a strike in support of the economy's weakest workers. Without the social protests, there's no way contract workers would have received anything.

The social protests, which pushed the Histadrut chairman from center stage, and the change in public opinion - which demanded more justice and fewer social gaps - were the driving forces behind the recent strike. Anyone who still claims that the summer protests didn't achieve anything is wrong, big-time.

But there are always a few people who will never be happy. No achievement will satisfy them, short of a revolutionary change that would move our economic system in the direction of neo-socialism. Therefore, they aren't satisfied with the very substantial raise that cleaning staff and security guards (very properly) received.

These dedicated workers will now earn a minimum wage of NIS 4,500 a month; they will henceforth receive the same raises as other public-sector workers, along with contributions to their pension funds and even professional training funds; and outstanding workers will get bonuses. No less importantly, they will now get holiday gifts and subsidized lunches at their workplace, just like other workers do. Granted, this isn't big money, but it is of great importance. No longer will cleaners and security guards be pushed to the margins; instead, they will be accepted and respected.

But those who complain about the agreement say that Eini failed to achieve the main goal: transferring 80,000 security guards and 60,000 cleaners directly onto the payrolls of the government, local authorities, universities, hospitals and the rest of the public sector.

It's true that he failed to achieve this, but we're lucky he did. For Eini wanted to force a single, uniform mode of employment onto the government: direct employment. It didn't interest him that no Western country - not Sweden, not Holland, not England - bans the indirect employment of workers. It didn't matter to him that the economy would have gone backward by 30 years, and investment, growth and employment would all have suffered. He wanted the models to be Cuba and North Korea, not Western Europe.

It's extremely fortunate that Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in the breach and refused to destroy everything that has been built here with great effort over the last 30 years.

Everyone should realize that buying services from an outside company is an integral part of the business world, and also of public administration. It stems from the critical need to specialize and devote one's time to one's core business, rather than wasting precious administrative hours on marginal matters.

Every enterprise, regardless of whether it's private or public, must try to be the best in its core business. So it's proper to purchase services such as cleaning, security, computerization or payroll preparation from outside companies. And not only is it proper, it's more efficient - as long as the outsourcer insists on these external workers being given fair wages and respectable working conditions.

Here, however, it's worth noting that Steinitz and Netanyahu's achievement was very partial - because the Histadrut didn't promise "industrial peace" with regard to the whole issue of direct employment. So, it could declare localized labor disputes tomorrow in a particular hospital or local authority to demand the direct employment of contract workers in that particular workplace.

Many people argue that while Europe employs contract workers, Israel does so in much larger numbers. But they forget to mention that the reason for this is the Histadrut, and Ofer Eini himself.

When Eini became Histadrut chairman six years ago, in February 2006 he met with the head of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and said, "The Histadrut erred when it didn't agree that public-sector employers should have managerial flexibility, which would also include the ability to fire workers." Because there is no such flexibility, Eini continued, "the employers circumvented the Histadrut: Instead of hiring workers under the collective agreement, they hired workers on personal contracts" - the equivalent of today's contract workers.

But despite these fine words, Eini has refused throughout his term to grant the public sector "managerial flexibility." Instead, he has taken a militant line of opposing any change, any mobility, any possibility of moving a worker from one corner of the office to another. And now he is shedding crocodile tears over the ballooning number of outsourced workers. It's a truly impressive display of hypocrisy.

Read this article in Hebrew