Fear of Lawsuits Keeps Ashdod Port From Divulging Damage Caused by Strikes

Port's management refuses to reveal how many work days were lost to strikes and other disputes in recent years due to fears they could be sued by clients.

The management of the Ashdod Port refuses to reveal how many work days were lost to strikes and other work actions at the port over recent years. The port is refusing because management fears it will be hit with a wave of lawsuits by customers demanding compensation.

Half of Israel’s imports and exports of goods go through the Ashdod Port, Israel’s most important international trade gateway. The port, a state-owned company, is also worried that the publication of the figures will cause further unrest among employees, and possibly lead to even more strikes as a result.

Last week Haaretz asked the Ashdod Port and the Government Companies Authority, which is responsible for supervising the port company, for detailed figures of the number of days of work lost to strikes and other work sanctions in recent years. Port management, headed by Shuki Sagis, refused. Instead, the management said: “In the years 2011-2012 and in the first two months of 2013, the number of strike days at Ashdod Port were very few and limited in a sectoral comparison to other ports in the world. The port company’s profits in recent years can be seen as evidence [of this].” But Haaretz has learned that internal correspondence between the port and the Government Companies Authority shows a completely different picture.

As a result of Haaretz’s request, the port and the GCA corresponded over how to answer. “The Port Company fears there is a very concrete possibility that revealing the information could expose it to broad monetary claims from its customers who will view themselves as having been harmed; suits that would damage the company’s financial interests,” the Ashdod Port management wrote to the GCA. “Revealing this information could lead to an escalation of tension in the labor relations in the port and disrupt the company’s operations, something which would affect the entire economy.”

Although the number of strike days at the port in recent years was relatively low, the Ashdod Port suffered from a large number of wildcat actions that are not defined as an official, legal labor dispute. For example, the workers would slow down their work speed, in what is known as an “Italian strike,” or miss days informally, such as by calling in sick.

The estimates of the number of such lost work days are well into the dozens in each of the past years; such figures have been hinted at in various Labor Court filings on behalf of the port. In 2011, labor sanctions continued for two months after management cancelled bonuses known as the “steak incentives,” which added up to millions of shekels a year. The Civil Service Commission recently closed its investigation of the case in which restaurant vouchers were given to workers. Finance Ministry officials said the vouchers constituted millions of shekels of taxpayer money and that they were distributed improperly.

Today workers are threatening sanctions because management is demanding the firing of two convicted criminals who are on unpaid leave while they serve their terms in prison − and the union is protecting these workers. One is serving seven years in prison for arson as part of an insurance fraud, while the other is serving 20 months for sexually harassing a minor.

The port’s pilots are also threatening sanctions over a new requirement that they be present in the port for the entire time they are on stand-by duty.

In recent years the GCA was been very lax in its supervision of the ports company. As a result of recent scandals, the State Comptroller has decided to investigate the goings on at the port.

Iliya Melnikov