Forty trains were canceled on Thursday after drivers called in sick; they were ordered by the labor court to show up for work or prove that they’re really ill.
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Passengers, warned of the wildcat action, stayed away in droves, and the sanctions caused no undue crowding at stations. On Wednesday, Israel Railways officials said they feared that the cancellation would affect some 30,000 passengers.
Sanctions started Wednesday when 42 drivers, about 20 percent of the total, announced their sudden illness, which broke out just as a new schedule went into effect with more trains, including direct lines from Ashdod and Ashkelon to Tel Aviv.
A judge at the Tel Aviv labor court, Sigal Davidow-Motola, ruled that the train drivers must appear before a company doctor at the firm’s headquarters between 3 P.M. and 7 P.M. The judge, however, did not issue a strike injunction against railway employees during an earlier hearing Wednesday.
“It is clear that this isn’t an individual matter but apparently a situation of organized group action to protest work arrangements,” Davidow-Motola said in her ruling. She ordered management and the drivers to commence negotiations, which will probably begin as soon as the sanctions are over.
Following the judge’s ruling, 27 drivers showed up at the doctor, 21 of whom were found fit to return to work.
The drivers claim that they are under increasing pressure and the illness that struck so many at once yesterday was due to exhaustion.
In a statement issued yesterday, the drivers say Israel Railways management is unfairly attacking them. They said they have warned for months that the new work schedules for drivers to operate trains many hours without a break, sometimes nine to twelve hours, endangering the public and themselves.
According to the drivers, when they complained that they are not given even 10 minutes between runs to go to the toilet, the management gave drivers bags to urinate in.
Israel Railways management responded that the reason for the sanctions was the initiation of a new computerized schedule that replaces the old hand-filled rosters. Management says the old duty rosters could not be monitored and supervisors were giving their friends easier shifts or fewer shifts.
Most of the drivers that called in sick were veteran drivers who are most hurt by the new arrangements, management said.
Israel Railways concedes that drivers are working harder with the new arrangements, but that the claim they work 12 hours straight is not true. Until now, drivers worked an average of three and a half hours over an eight and a half hour shift. With the new system, drivers will have to work no more than five hours out of their shift, and that new drivers were being hired all the time. Management said urine bags had indeed been given to drivers, but at their own request.