Israeli Labor Court Bars Port Workers From Striking

State may continue with plan to build two privately run ports, but must hold talks with workers at state-run ports in Haifa and Ashdod.

The government has the right to move ahead with its plan to create privately operated ports without reaching an agreement with workers at the country's state-run ports, the National Labor Court ruled Monday.

The court thus barred port workers from striking to protest against new ports. Nevertheless, it also instructed the government to hold talks with unions over the issue and report on any progress at a hearing scheduled for October 10.

“At this time there is no reason to permit the Histadrut to strike, but to provide another chance for establishing a dialogue between the government, the port companies and the Histadrut as required under collective labor agreements,” concluded a three-judge panel comprising Yigal Plitman, the court’s deputy president; Amiram Rabinovich; and Leah Glicksman.

The court was ruling on the government’s plan to create two privately operated ports adjacent to the state-owned facilities in Haifa and Ashdod; unions have vowed to fight the plan in its current form.

While the government contends that competition will help make Israel’s state-owned ports more efficient, port workers, backed by the Histadrut labor federation, say competition will lower pay and other benefits and lead to layoffs.

In Monday’s ruling, the court criticized the port workers for their verbal abuse of officials of the State Prosecutor's Office and the Finance Ministry’s budget division at a hearing September 3 that almost descended into violence.

"We view with great seriousness the reckless behavior of the port workers,” the judges wrote. “This inappropriate behavior deserves every bit of condemnation and has no place in the courtroom or outside it.”

The Histadrut has declared a labor dispute at the ports - a precursor to calling a strike - while the port unions said last week they intended to begin a labor struggle after the High Holidays that end this week, including a slowdown. Following the court's decision, it was unclear if the unions planned to go ahead with the slowdown and, if so, in what form.

Emil Salman