General Strike Set to Cripple Israel on Wednesday

Government ministries, National Insurance Institute, Israel Lands Administration, Employment Service, Tax Authority, stock exchange, banks, and more to shut down.

Trade union and treasury officials are due to meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to avert the general strike declared on Monday by the Histadrut labor federation over the employment of subcontracted workers.

If talks fail and the strike begins, as of 6 A.M. Wednesday all government ministries will be closed, as well as the National Insurance Institute, Israel Lands Administration, Employment Service and Tax Authority. The stock exchange, banks and railway lines also would shut down. Local authorities would close, meaning garbage would not be collected and parking tickets would not be issued. Hospitals would operate on a skeleton staff.

Ofer Eini - Ofer Vaknin - 07022012
Ofer Vaknin

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini called for social justice for the subcontracted workers at a conference on Monday of some 200 trade union members from across the country.

Eini demanded that some of the 350,000 to 400,000 subcontracted workers in various sectors no longer be outsourced. Eini is demanding that they be employed directly by their place of work.

As for the subcontracted workers who are not hired as regular workers, Eini is insisting that they receive the same wages and terms as the regular workers in their organizations.

"We don't expect the transition from subcontracting to direct employment to be made all at once. But we want to set the principle," Eini said.

Eini said the treasury maintains that subcontracted security guards cannot be directly employed, as this would require every employer to obtain weapon licenses for them and to ensure they have a firing range where they can practice.

"But why can't they directly employ the cleaning workers, who are working for them in full-time positions? However, our demands have hit a brick wall," Eini said.

Meanwhile, Histadrut officials on Monday opened negotiations with the private business sector in a bid to hammer out a separate agreement on the employment terms of workers subcontracted from personnel agencies.

While this separate agreement would not solve the problem for all subcontracted workers in the country, it would mark a significant achievement for the Histadrut. It would also likely give Eini an edge in the negotiations with the treasury on Tuesday.

A senior treasury official said on Monday, "The Histadrut is not demanding social justice but injustice."

"If we spend large sums [of money] to fulfill the demands regarding subcontracted workers, we'll need similar sums to fulfill the demands from other sectors, like factory laborers in the outlying areas, who also want to improve their employment terms. They will be followed by other groups like gardeners, road builders and construction workers," the treasury official said.

The official argued that Histadrut was trying to change the employment structure, an issue that is not within a trade union's authority but rather up to the state and employers.

"Eini went too far with the subcontracted workers," the official said. "He must be brought back to the ground.

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