Israeli Government Workers Start Reneging on Their COVID-era Sacrifices

Compared to the private sector, they suffered little. Now IAI workers have arranged not to suffer at all

Hagai Amit
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The logo of Israel Aerospace Industries at their offices near Or Yehuda, in 2017.
The logo of Israel Aerospace Industries at their offices near Or Yehuda, in 2017.Credit: Baz Ratner/ REUTERS
Hagai Amit

Last week, many employees of Israel Aerospace Industries received the good news that they were entitled to “additional vacation hours” as compensation for the time off that a third of the state-owned company’s staff was forced to take last year due to coronavirus restrictions.

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In exchange for the extra vacation time, the number of days employees can take off for job training was reduced by six days annually while other “training” days will be scheduled for the day before legal holidays. Over the long run, the reduction in the number of training days will cover the cost of the extra vacation days.

The treasury is happy because the deal will bring some order to the explosive growth of these training days at IAI. The powerful workers’ committee at IAI also presented the deal as a victory.

Yair Katz, the IAI workers’ committee chairman, doesn’t blink an eye over what he has achieved. “The committee has the welfare of employees at its heart, especially during the deep economic crisis hovering over the world …. We’ll keep thinking creatively in order to bring more big victories for the workers.”

IAI defended the deal. “As part of the agreement approved by authorized officials in the company and the treasury, the company is applying new rules and limits on accumulating vacation days. In line with that, an arrangement was made concerning vacation hours of employees during the first lockdown in accordance with collective-labor agreements signed at the time elsewhere.”

Asked by TheMarker, the Histadrut labor federation said it couldn’t point to other workplaces where deals like the one made last week with IAI have been made, but news that a precedent has been set is certainly going to whet the appetite of workers’ committees at other state-owned companies. If that happens, it will undo one of the few instances where Israel’s public sector workers made any sacrifice during the hard days of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of last March, when the first COVID restrictions were imposed by the government, the treasury and the Histadrut signed an agreement spelling out public sector work conditions during the coronavirus crisis. Workers not deemed to be essential would remain at home and use vacation time they had accumulated. Workers who didn’t have enough days would take them against vacation time coming to them in the future.

At a time when millions of workers and self-employed in the private sector were being laid off or put on unpaid leave, and living off unemployment and other state aid, the vacation-time deal was the public sector workforce’s main contribution to the coronavirus effort. At least, non-essential public sector workers would have to sacrifice their vacation days.

That was during last spring’s first lockdown. By the time of the second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, the government was more generous with the workers’ committee: Some of the time off would be taken off the worker’s vacation days and some would be taken at the expense of his or her employer.

The IAI deal marks the beginning of the next surrender to the public sector labor unions: Its terms will almost certainly now be copied at other government bodies. In other words, the public sector won’t have been harmed at all by the coronavirus crisis. For the state and its taxpayers, it will mean quite a few work days being thrown away. At IAI, some employees will be enjoying double the number of vacation days in 2021 that they get in a regular year.

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