Israel's Nature and Parks Authority Staff Threaten Two-day Strike Over Passover

Park employees would not show up for work on two of the intermediate days of the holiday at sites where a fee is charged, but management says it will go to court to head off the labor action.

Eshkol Park hosted many visitors on Sunday, April 24, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Employees at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Tuesday that they would stage a strike on April 12 and 13, shutting down the country’s national parks and nature reserves that charge an entry fee and halting staff operations at other locations. These dates, which fall on the intermediate days of Passover, are a particularly busy time for the parks and reserves. The parks authority management has said it would go to court to try and prevent the workers from striking.

If it goes as planned, the strike would shutter more than 60 sites with an admission fee operated by the authority and would also halt oversight and rescue services as well as educational and leisure activities at other sites. All of the authority’s workforce, including lifeguards and rescue personnel, would be affected, according to David Keren, the chairman of the authority’s workers' committee.

The staff declared a labor dispute in December but the workers have not taken any steps affecting members of the public until now, Keren said. “Over the course of two years of contacts, we have not struck out of a sense of responsibility and concern for the public, but we have reached our limit,” he said, adding that the workers are calling on the management to attempt to resolve the dispute before Passover, which begins the evening of April 10.

The staff is seeking revisions to the collective labor agreement at the Nature and Parks Authority, which was last updated in 2008. Workers are demanding a salary increase as well as special salary increases. “The scope of our work has increased and we have more times on call, [engaged in] emergency and rescue activity,” Keren said, but compensation has remained unchanged.

Keren said that about a year ago, the workers reached an agreement, but the management required changes to the plan. “The management claimed that it was due to opposition from the Finance Ministry," he said. "We cannot be expected to work more but not to be compensated accordingly.”

Visitors at the northern palace at Masada National Park.
Moshe Gilad

The parks authority management disputes this, and claims that the employees were the ones who reconsidered the agreement. “The notice of the strike came in the course of negotiations. The conduct of the workers’ committee, which is using the workers as a pawn and is holding the public wishing to have leisure time hostage, is destroying labor relations at the authority,” responded the authority in a statement. The parks authority will approach the labor court to prevent inconvenience to the public and to keep the parks open, the statement added.