Israel Military Industry Workers Delay Strike, Ask PM to Intervene in Salary Dispute

Finance Ministry and IMI workers' union trade accusations over who is responsible for the company's current budget crisis.

Workers at the Israel Military Industries have postponed their strike to Monday, but are continuing their sanctions today. For instance, the workers have been refusing to test arms earmarked for sale, and are balking at working afternoon and evening shifts.

Itzik Yehuda, head of the government company's labor committee, explained that representatives of the workers would be meeting with management and government representatives on Sunday, hence the strike's postponement to Monday.

He demands however that the treasury undertake to pay the workers immediately before recommencing negotiations on the company's privatization.

The call to strike was declared last Wednesday during a demonstration by Israel Military Industries workers over unpaid salaries for June. The company employs some 3,000 people. Saying that the labor representatives were refusing to sign an agreement for structural change at the IMI, the treasury had refused to transfer the NIS 60 million to cover the June payroll.

Late last week Yehuda called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to intervene and help resolve the dispute.

“As the owners of IMI, a government corporation, it's important that you know that the non-payment of workers' salaries is crossing a red line,” the labor representatives wrote in a letter to the government.

Last week the Finance Ministry placed the blame for IMI’s current financial troubles on the workers. “There is no progress regarding the crisis at IMI because the workers' representatives have refused to sign an agreement that would allow the privatization of the company, and thus permitted the ongoing crisis to continue. Nevertheless, despite the tough financial situation, the workers have been offered incredibly generous retirement packages.”

Over the past 20 years, the Finance Ministry has pumped NIS 10 billion into IMI, including half a billion shekels in the last six months alone. The Knesset Finance Committee recently decided to suspend all further injections of government funds into the company until there is an agreement outlining a path toward solving the company's perennial deficit.

An agreement had seemed close, but two clauses have yet to be accepted by labor representatives. One mandates cutting manpower. The second provides a financial safety net for employees after most of the company's operations are moved to the south of the country.