Histadrut Declares Labor Dispute at 11 Gov’t Firms and Airports Authority

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A worker walks past iron rods ready for shipment at Israel Shipyards Port in Haifa February 5, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The Histadrut labor federation is laying the ground for a new wave of labor sanctions at government-owned companies by formally declaring labor disputes, a legal formality before labor sanctions can be instituted about two weeks later. A separate labor dispute has been declared at the Israel Airports Authority, which could lead to a disruption of outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport by the end of this month.

The labor federation’s declaration of the disputes follows Tuesday’s resolution by the government and worker representatives of labor strife at the Israeli postal service. Before it was settled, that controversy sparked sympathy sanctions at a number of other government entities. And on the eve of the Sukkot holiday, the Histadrut opened a new labor front by declaring work disputes at 11 government corporations that collectively have a workforce of 43,000 people. They include Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Railways, the Haifa port and the Mekorot water company.

The latest action by the Histadrut comes in response to initial approval of a plan that would have the government sell off 15 billion shekels-worth ($4 billion) of its holdings in the state-controlled corporations. Theoretically, at least, the declaration of a work dispute paves the way for labor disruptions, or even a shutdown at the government companies after two weeks.

Because the declaration came just before the Sukkot holiday, and in light of the fact that intervening days that are holidays are not counted in the two-week waiting period, the labor federation would have to wait until October 26 before any disruption of operations could begin.

The separate declaration of a work dispute at the Israel Airports Authority could seriously disrupt outgoing flights from Ben-Gurion airport. The stated reason for the threatened labor action is a government decision to deprive the airports authority of 700 million shekels in royalty payments. The Israel Airports Authority workers’ committee has expressed concern that the loss of this income would harm the agency’s financial condition and could ultimately lead to layoffs or wage cuts. The workers are demanding the government and authority management negotiate with them.

With regard to the government-owned corporations, Histadrut representatives contend that any change in their corporate structure or steps to privatize them – as has been suggested by Ori Yogev, the head of the Government Companies Authority, and by the Finance Ministry – could have critical consequences. They have expressed concern over how such changes would affect the workplace security of the staff and their economic interests. Sources at the labor federation contend that the decision to advance the plan was taken unilaterally and without negotiations with the worker representatives at the government corporations that might be affected.

Labor federation sources claimed the government is forcing dramatic changes on the employees of these companies, and in the process is not only breaking the rules but also violating accepted norms in collective labor relation.

“The Histadrut is an essential partner to steps designed to make the public companies more efficient,” the labor federation’s chairman, Avi Nisenkorn, said Wednesday. “We will thoroughly examine any offering [of shares in] a government company, and will look into whether it is good for the public and if it protects the workers’ rights.”

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