Calling it a “harsh, extreme and unreasonable blow to the transport company’s basic right to freedom of occupation,” Ashdod Port’s suspended union boss Alon Hassan asked the High Court of Justice on Thursday to reverse a ban on trucks belonging to a company he controls from entering the port.
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The appeal to the court came right after Hassan’s Ben-Iden Trucking was barred from doing business with the port by its board of directors, citing a conflict of interest between Hassan’s role as a union official and as someone doing business with the ports. Hassan took a leave of absence at the same time.
Both developments came after Channel 2 television broadcast an expose on Hassan’s multifaceted businesses, and at a time when the unions and the government are squaring off over plans to reform the country’s port by introducing private sector competition.
In the petition, Hassan, who as the most powerful union leader in the ports has become a symbol for abuses and inefficiency, called the story broadcast about him on Channel 2 “the opening shot of a putsch carried out in stages, far out of the sight and knowledge of the transport company, ultimately leading to the wretched, illegal and unacceptable decision devoid of any basis by the board of Ashdod Port.”
Without an entry permit, explained Hassan, Ben-Iden’s trucks can’t provide container transport services for importers and exporters that use the port in accordance with contracts between the company and its customers.
In apparent reference to a series of articles by reporter Sharon Shpurer published by Haaretz in 2011, Hassan argued that the board’s sudden decision was particularly odd since the claims about his conflicts of interest were first revealed two years ago. He noted that the port’s internal auditor examined the claims and found they weren’t true.
“The decision shows that Ashdod Port and its directors erroneously believed themselves to be servants of the media, in that rather than taking into account their obligations under law as a public body, they preferred taking into account groundless populist claims,” according to the petition submitted by Ben-Iden’s attorneys, Ronel Fisher, Meirav Mishan and Benny Katz.
Satisfying the masses
The decision was meant to “satisfy the media and the masses,” according to Hassan. “Attesting to the port’s lack of good faith was that, in response to the Channel 2 story, Ashdod Port declared that it rejects all charges that were voiced and presented in the expose against Hassan and his businesses.”
Hassan further claimed his trucking company didn’t receive any letter informing it of the decision, including on when the decision was made, its reasoning, and how it might be appealed. Neither was it given the right to a hearing, he added. Therefore he has no way of knowing what information, if any, it was based on or who took part in making the decision.
The port said its review of Hassan’s case was only concluded recently following a thorough investigation. It also stressed that if there was a need to order at some earlier point an end to the conflict of interest involving the work of Hassan’s trucking company at the port, the mistake mustn’t be corrected by perpetuating it.
The port, represented by attorneys Daniel Abarbanel and Guy Fuhrer of Yigal Arnon & Company, also responded that the case of a port worker − and in this case also the chairman of the port’s workers’ committee and a central figure with heavy influence over all the port’s operations − running private businesses within the port by providing services to port customers is a clear-cut case of a prohibited conflict of interest.
The port also said it wondered why Hassan’s trucks only operate within Ashdod Port to serve the port’s customers rather than offering its services to other potential customers throughout the country.