Finance Minister and Union Chief Meet as General Strike Looms

Public sector workers threaten to shut down government services over demand for 3.5% raise.

In a last-minute attempt to head off a strike of all public-sector employees, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Ofer Eini, the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, will meet today.

Yesterday, Eini assembled the heads of the 15 public sector unions along with Trade Union Division chairman Avi Nissenkorn and received their unanimous approval to take the next step in the official labor dispute - and go on strike.

Eini - Nir Kafri -Oct. 29, 2010
Nir Kafri

The Histadrut is demanding that all 750,000 public sector workers receive a 3.5% raise in each of the three years covered by the new labor agreement, all told an almost-11% increase in salary over the period of the new contract.

But the head of the Finance Ministry's Wage and Labor Agreements Department, Ilan Levin, has offered them only a 0.5% annual increase.

"During the period when the economy was in a recession, in light of the world economic crisis, public sector employees contributed their share and gave up half of the vacation allowance they had coming," said a Histadrut official yesterday.

"Now, when the Israeli economy is growing, there is no reason not to reward the employees for their contribution," he added.

A treasury official said that despite Eini and the unions' show of force, negotiations would continue over the next few days, and there was no real reason for a strike.

Airports and trains would stop operating

The strike, if it happens, would shut down all government offices, the National Insurance Institute, local authorities, government companies, the seaports and airports, university administrations, and other public institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.

The trains will stop running, but buses will continue as normal.

Some teachers, members of the Israel Teachers Union, might also go on strike. But they may very well settle for a short or partial school strike as a way of identifying with the strikers.

But the Histadrut has yet to decide on the extent of the strike and it is possible it will be only partial - at least at the beginning.

The extent of the strike could also depend on the progress in the negotiations between the Histadrut and the treasury.

The Israel Chambers of Commerce, headed by President Uriel Lynn, said it plans on petitioning the Labor Court for an order against the strike, saying such a strike would cause severe economic damage.

Lynn said public sector employees are entitled to a raise, but it should be distributed differentially; in other words, lower-paid workers should be getting larger raises than those with higher wages.