Some 100 managers at Israel Electric Corporation left work on Monday morning under orders from their union, in response to a Finance Ministry instruction that they return illegally awarded bonuses received over the years.
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In response, IEC CEO Eli Glickman declared a state of emergency and ordered the company's legal department to petition the regional labor court to prevent employees from implementing labor sanctions that would disrupt the supply of electricity.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, power outages spread throughout Israel's south Monday morning, causing disruptions to traffic lights and leaving citizens stuck in elevators.
The managers were instructed by union leader David Tzarfati to leave their posts either by using their vacation time or taking labor action. The union issued a statement explaining its move in the context of wider negotiations over government aid to prevent the state-owned monopoly from going bankrupt in return for reform at the company.
"Every time there is progress in negotiations, the state begins again with the same ritual and tries to pull a rabbit out of its hat with the goal of derailing talks," the union stated. "This is what happened in 2008, in 2010 and today, too." It added, "In response, we have decided as a first step that the managers would leave the company's offices. We demand that the state continue to negotiate with us in a manner that is transparent, trustworthy and in good faith."
In April last year, it was revealed that IEC employees benefitted from $84,777,000 every year in improperly approved salary bonuses and adjustments. In addition, the company was discovered to have an actuarial deficit of close to $141,335,000. Last week, the director of the Finance Ministry's wages department, Kobi Amsalem, sent a letter saying he would make deductions from IEC employees' salaries to recoup improperly approved salary benefits. At the same time, negotiations have been taking place between the government and IEC stakeholders about reforming the electric monopoly.
This is the third time in recent months that IEC's union instructed workers to abandon their posts at the company. Two months ago, the union told 1,000 workers in the southern district to leave work because IEC management ordered that employees' salaries be reduced for time taken off for illegal labor action.
The power outages, which began at around 8 A.M., were felt in Beer Sheva, Ashdod and Dimona Traffic lights in Ashdod malfunctioned, causing heavy traffic throughout the city.
Due to the high volume of calls, the Israel Electric Corporation hotline, 103, crashed, making it impossible for dialers to speak to an operator.
After more than an hour, electricity was reinstated in all locations.
The power outages resulted from an electrical load reduction, according to the Israel Electric Corporation. This is when consumers are cut off from the electricity supply in order to prevent the system from crashing.
"At 8:22 A.M.," the corporation wrote on its Facebook page, "two electric generators [temporarily] ceased operations at the Gezer [power plant] site due to a problem at a gas transmission facility. As a result of the breaks, power outages were felt across the country, spanning 10-30 minutes. Electricity has since been restored at all customers."
As a result of the power outages, residents in the south got trapped in elevators. The Emergency Fire Services said that its hotline received some 25 calls to open elevators in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiriat Gat and Sderot. "Fire trucks operated in the cities until the power outage was over," the service said.
Israel Natural Gas Lines Ltd also responded to the incident saying, "As a result of the irregularity in electricity supply from the national service provider, there was a mishap at the gas facility adjacent to the Gezer site at 8:27 A.M." The breakdown continued for about five minutes, it said, during which the transition of fuel to the power station was partially interrupted. The company said staff at the site was investigating the incident.