Histadrut Threatens a Negev-wide Strike

Haim Bior
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The Dead Sea Works potash fertilizer manufacturing plant belongs to Israel Chemicals.
The Dead Sea Works potash fertilizer manufacturing plant belongs to Israel Chemicals.Credit: Bloomberg
Haim Bior

The Histadrut labor federation threatened yesterday to call a strike throughout the entire Negev region in two weeks, raising the ante in its battle with Israeli Chemicals over layoffs at the company’s Bromine and Dead Sea Works units.

The labor federation’s representatives approved a proposal by Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn to formally declare a labor dispute that would shut all business and government offices south of Ashdod.

Israeli labor law requires unions to give two weeks’ notice before going out on strike, to provide a cooling-off period.

Meanwhile, the Histadrut will put pressure on ICL management and the government to rescind the planned layoffs. On Sunday, thousands of union members are due to rally in Jerusalem. The rally was originally planned for Tel Aviv, but the Histadrut decided to move it to the capital to press the government to use its golden share in ICL to pressure the company.

“If we allow unemployment in the Negev or sending workers packing, Israel will have lost its social character,” said Nissenkorn at yesterday’s meeting. “It’s not just a struggle over ICL but a social struggle for every citizen of Israel.

Nissenkorn rejected ICL’s claims that the Bromine plant is unprofitable and needs to cut costs, citing the closure of the Arad Towels plant in the Negev last year. “Arad Towels was shuttered because it was losing money. But ICL is a profitable business that made 3 billion shekels in 2014.”

The labor federation said the general strike in the south would encompass every industrial plants, government offices, schools, Ben-Gurion University, hospitals and public transportation.

But officials conceded that calling such a wide-ranging labor dispute might be problematic from a legal point of view because workers would be striking in support of ICL employees, not over their own wages or conditions. The law restricts strikes in support of another cause to just four hours.

Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, called on Nissenkorn not to go ahead with the strike. “The entire economy can’t be paying the price for the efficiency measures that ICL management is seeking to make in some of its plants,” he said.

Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, termed the strike threat an attempt to exploit political sensitivities ahead of the March 17 Knesset election.