Labor Court Orders Striking Ashdod Port Workers Back on the Job

Union bosses Alon Hassan and Avinoam Shushan summoned for disciplinary hearings

Ilya Melnikov

A day after they launched a wildcat strike, Ashdod Port workers were ordered back to work immediately by the Be’er Sheva Regional Labor Court on Monday.

The order came after the workers’ committee missed an 8 A.M. deadline to respond to a back-to-work petition filed by port management.

The two leading labor leaders at the port, Alon Hassan and Avinoam Shushan, shut down port operations completely on Sunday, leaving at least 15 ships stranded while they awaited unloading. Management said the unions took the step after relatives of workers’ committee members were barred from applying for work as stevedores at the port. The vetting committee was continuing to consider applicants as stevedores, but the workers’ committee refuses to participate unless the ban against hiring relatives is lifted.

The Government Companies Authority imposed a ban on hiring relatives last week that goes into effect at the end of April, prompting the controversy. The issue comes at a time when the unions are grappling with government plans to create private-sector competition to the state-owned ports. For now, at least, the labor court has stopped port workers from striking to block the reform plan.

The unions have an additional interest in delaying new hiring at the port: Labor shortages on the docks mean that existing workers are given overtime work and pay. That is one of the explanations for the two-year delay in hiring additional dockworkers.

Ashdod Port management maintains that the workers’ committee is in violation of its collective labor agreement and is breaching its commitment to the labor court requiring it to convene admissions panels for new dock workers twice a week.

In another development, management summoned Hassan and Shushan for disciplinary hearings for being engaged in outside employment without permission. The two were elected members of the Ashdod city council in recent months − Shushan at the end of October when he won a seat in the local election, and Hassan last month when a place opened up on the council after a member stepped down − prompting a complaint from the Justice Ministry that their new posts create a conflict of interests with their jobs at the port.

The city and the port do considerable business with each other, with municipal approval needed to erect new buildings in the port area. Ashdod Port is a major source of city tax revenues and a major local employer. As a result, port workers are generally barred from involvement in issues related to municipal government.