Foreign Ministry Staff Joining Union's 'Solidarity Strikes'

Employees of the Foreign Ministry, who rarely strike or implement work sanctions, will today halt work at 9 A.M. for "informational assemblies" with Histadrut labor federation representatives, and resume their duties only at 1 P.M.

"The idea is to put pressure on the Finance Ministry so it will finally sign a collective bargaining agreement with Water Authority employees - workers who apparently are beneath the notice of the treasury," a Histadrut source said. "These are strikes organized by the State Employees Union together with the Water Authority workers, who have been working without a contract since structural changes were introduced in the agency about three years ago," the source said.

"We're not talking about about Israel Electric Corporation or port employees, who don't need anyone's demonstrations of solidarity because of their great power. The [Water Authority] workers really need support for their struggle. We are positive that with every additional strike in a different ministry the treasury will sober up and start negotiating," the source said.

The solidarity strikes began on Wednesday last week, when Department of Customs and VAT employees announced a four-hour work stoppage at the Jordanian border crossings, holding up cargo traffic.

On Sunday, income and land taxation employees suspended reception hours at Tax Authority offices and refused to answer phones for four hours. Yesterday it was the turn of the Interior Ministry's Land Registry offices ("Tabu") to hold a four-hour work stoppage.

Employment sanctions

Employment Bureau workers, meanwhile, are continuing their own work sanctions, launched a week ago in a bid to reopen their collective wage agreement. They will not process unemployment allowance applications or refer jobseekers to potential employers.

Treasury officials are hoping that the union's actions are not the start of a bigger battle to reopen salary talks for the entire public sector. Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini last month declared that January 1 will mark the end of the union's commitment to "industrial quiet."

Sources in the Finance Ministry say the Water Authority employees are demanding a monthly pay raise of NIS 2,500. They say it is unwarranted in light of the fact that these workers already make more than the average for the public sector.