'High Steaks' Battle Brews at Ashdod Port

Another dispute over 'meat coupons' has prompted a workers' slowdown, delaying ships at the country's largest port.

Workers at Ashdod Port, led by union chairman Alon Hasson, disrupted work at the country's largest port on Monday, causing huge losses to carriers and merchants. The sanctions came only a short time after the end of a two-month labor slowdown over the same issue, the "steak incentive," a bonus given to especially productive workers. Whereas last time the workers protested - and prevailed over - the Treasury's attempt to cancel the benefit, this time their gripe was over the fact that they have used up their annual benefits, and management is prohibited from granting them additional incentives for the remaining month and a half of 2011.

Half of Israel's international commerce passes through Ashdod Port. "Handling workers have slowed down their work pace and the production levels have decreased," said the Chamber of Shipping of Israel in a press release. "As usual the consequences accumulate slowly, but there are already delays in handling ships in the port, and ships awaiting entry."

The slowdown seems surprising because of the recent victory of the workers over the Treasury concerning the budget for restaurant coupons distributed to workers with high production rates. The workers won their battle for more coupons - with the support of the Histadrut labor federation - even though it was technological changes that helped improve production. The "steak coupons" cost the port NIS 600,000 in 2008, NIS 3.7 million in 2010 and are expected to rise to NIS 5.7 million in 2013.

The Port Comptroller claimed that the steak bonus accord was signed unlawfully by the port's CEO Yehoshua "Shuki" Sagis, without the approval of the board of directors or the Government Companies Authority.

"On Monday morning 12 ships were already waiting outside the port," said the Chamber of Shipping, which estimates that delays cost ship owners and merchants $10,000 a day. The Chamber of Shipping says that the handling workers slowdown is part of a labor dispute that includes the navigators, naval officers and other workers.

In October Haaretz revealed that, apart from his role as workers union chairman, Alon Hassan is also involved in private business transactions with companies that are also clients of the Ashdod Port. Hassan claimed that his trucking company supplied services to clients of the port, but denied that he ever supplied services to the port directly, a claim backed by port management. Still, according to information that reached Haaretz, a detergent company owned by Hassan, A.Y. Hops Industries, sells products to the port using the trademark "Shahaf." The products are sold indirectly, through a company called Klir Holdings, owned by Ronen Baruch and Daniella Zabban, a teacher, who is a relative of Alon Hassan.

Hassan denies having any commercial links with the port. "Klir buys products from me, and maybe sells some of them to the port. I don't see any problem with that." Zabban said that "my husband is Alon Hassan's wife's cousin, and we meet occasionally at family gatherings. I'm in charge of paperwork and dealings with banks, and most of the contacts with the port are managed by my partner, Ronen Baruch."

Baruch adds that the transactions with the port began several months ago and were worth around NIS 12,000 a month. The Ashdod Port management confirmed that it purchases detergents from Klir irregularly, but was unaware of a possible connection between Klir's products and Hassan's A.Y. Hops Industries, or with Hassan's "Shahaf" trademark, since it doesn't appear on Klir's products. Contrary to the last claim, Haaretz discovered the trademark "Shahaf" on many of Klir's products.

Following Haaretz's revelations, Ometz - citizens for good governance and for social-legal justice, sent a letter to Israel Katz, Minister of Transportation, demanding the removal of Hassan from all his functions in the port until a comprehensive investigation is held concerning the alleged conflict of interests.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: עובדי נמל אשדוד רוצים להגדיל התמריץ, האוניות מחכות בחוץ