Court Workers Threaten to Extend Strike Indefinitely

Administrative court workers threatened yesterday to continue their strike until the courts' summer recess begins later this month, and to resume it again when the courts return from recess in September.

Some 1,800 employees of the court system, 80 percent of them women, have been striking since June 21. The strike has caused severe delays throughout the system, and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said last week that unless it is resolved, the courts' work may soon grind to a complete halt.

The strikers are demanding that 500 part-time positions be expanded to half-time, and that the preferential terms of the bonus they earn as court workers be reinstated. Once, this bonus distinguished them from other civil servants, but now, other public-sector workers receive similar or even larger benefits.

Finally, they are seeking a major organizational change in the Courts Administration that would improve administrative workers' opportunities for promotion and raises and expand the number of workers eligible for reimbursement of car expenses.

However, the Courts Administration claims that meeting the workers' demands would mean adding 127 new positions to the system, which it cannot afford.

Court strike sign
Eli Hershkovitz

A legal source familiar with the strike told Haaretz that it was sparked by the court stenographers' successful strike six months ago. The 750 stenographers stayed on strike for weeks and eventually won a collective agreement that secured them a raise of NIS 1,000 each, compensation for wage erosion and reimbursement for car expenses.

The source added that negotiations between the workers and the Courts Administration had reached an impasse, and resolving the dispute was now up to the civil servants' union, the Finance Ministry and the Civil Service Commission.

Lawyers have been trying to bypass the strike by appealing directly to judges and their clerks. Yona Hayer-Levy, chief public defender for the Tel Aviv and central districts, told Haaretz that attorneys have begun approaching the clerks directly with urgent requests in a bid to keep legal procedures moving. Usually, the courts' chief secretaries are the ones who accept urgent requests, and then pass them on to judges at their own discretion.

However, no new civil proceedings can be started, aside from urgent matters such as requests for injunctions or for protective orders for people at risk from their relatives. And in criminal cases, the list is only slightly longer, encompassing matters such as appeals of verdicts in criminal trials, appeals against the release of suspects in custody and requests to extend the remand of people already on trial.

Avi Harush, deputy chairman of the court workers' union, told Haaretz the workers planned to intensify the strike, including by locking up the courts' stocks of paper, which would significantly impair the judges' work.