Finance Ministry, Histadrut Deadlocked as Wednesday Strike Looms

Talks log-jammed over treasury demand to tilt wage increases toward lower-income workers.

Histadrut members raise their hands to show support for a general strike.
Oren Cohen / Histadrut

Israel’s Histadrut labor federation said Monday that public sector workers, including teachers, would begin a strike on Wednesday as talks were log-jammed over treasury demands that lower-paid workers get a larger cut of the wage increases than they have until now.

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn told a rally of thousands of civil servants opposite the Finance Ministry building in Jerusalem that the strike would begin at 6 A.M. Wednesday and defended the union’s opposition to so-called differential hikes.

“The Histadrut won’t let anyone divide workers one against the other,” he told the rally. But Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who promised in elections last year to help close income gaps, said he could not approve an agreement that didn’t include differential hikes.

The strike will include all government hospitals as well as many private hospitals and Bezeq.

As the union umbrella group issued its warning, El Al Airlines said it was forced to cancel flights to New York and Brussels and reschedule a third to Barcelona because pilots were failing to report to work. Labor leaders termed the pilots’ absence a technical problem, not a labor action.

At Haifa Port, meanwhile, equipment workers began a work slowdown to protest the treasury’s refusal to approve a wage pact signed with the state-owned port’s management. The 100 or so port employees involved were working half their normal hours.

But the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said it was seeking a court order to block the strike and order unions to avoid any labor action for the next six months while unions and the government hammer out a wage accord.

“The Israeli economy can’t be held hostage to constant strike threats. The fact of a strike declaration, even if it doesn’t come to fruition, is enough to cause heavy damage,” the Chamber said, estimating the direct cost to the economy of a strike at 600 million shekels ($154 million) a day. It said Monday's strike threat was the fourth in the past year.

Government and union negotiators began talks several months ago on a new public sector wage agreement, but they knew that no pact would be signed until after the Knesset approved the 2016-17 budget, which it did last month. Public sector workers have been without a contract for the past two-and-a-half years.

Treasury officials said Monday that workers had effectively gotten a pay raise this year because consumer prices have fallen. “We expect the Histadrut to exhaust the negotiating track first and not to cause damage to the Israeli economy,” one official said.