Israel Could Face General Strike Next Week

Histadrut union threatens to launch strike unless government signs accord with public sector workers.

Histadrut members raise their hands to show support for a general strike.
Oren Cohen / Histadrut

Israel will be facing a general strike next week if the government doesn’t come to a wage agreement with public sector workers, said Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn on Wednesday. The strike, set to start December 23, will shutter schools and preschools as well.

The Histadrut declared a labor dispute on November 25, meaning that the mandatory waiting period before launching a strike has passed.

“We need to hash out a new wage agreement this month and if there’s no solution, we’ll have to launch a strike in a week,” he said at an afternoon meeting at the Histadrut’s Tel Aviv offices.

Yossi Wasserman and Ron Erez, head of two teachers unions, called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett to intervene to prevent the strike from shutting schools.

Negotiations are not yet in the final stages - the sides have not yet started to discuss what raises the workers will receive starting in January, and what bonus they’ll receive for 2013-2015. A senior Finance Ministry official said the treasury is demanding that the Histadrut agree to efficiency measures throughout the civil service in order to improve services to citizens. This would include introducing new technologies that increase public sector output. Every 1% raise granted to the public sector will cost the state an extra 1.1 billion shekels a year, noted the official.

The Finance Ministry has been holding daily negotiations with Histadrut officials. The ministry officials are arguing that Israel’s economy isn’t in such good shape nowadays, with low growth and negative inflation, and therefore raises need to be minimal. Furthermore, treasury officials want raises to be differential, meaning that the largest raises in percentage terms will go to those with the lowest salaries, in order to lessen salary gaps.

The ministry notes that since 2013, public sector workers automatically received a 1% raise every year, and that this salary creep shouldn’t be factored into future raises.

“A strike won’t change Israel’s economic reality,” said a treasury official, adding that the Finance Ministry does not intend to harm Israel’s organized labor.

Finance Ministry Wages Director Kobi Amsellem said that the country needs a new way to set public sector salaries that doesn’t involve conflicts at the expense of the state’s citizens. He was speaking at a press conference revealing salary data for 2014.