The Transportation Ministry will resume the process of soliciting bids on Monday for the construction of two privately run ports, one in Ashdod, the other in Haifa, that will compete with the existing state-owned ports. The ministry's announcement came late Thursday, just after the National Labor Court declined an order that put the process on hold for a month. Another court hearing on the port reform is scheduled for Tuesday.
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On July 29, Labor Court Judge Yigal Plitman issued the order halting the public tender process for a month. The court's failure to extend the order halting the bidding process may set the stage for disruption of port operations by the workers, according to port sources.
The unionized employees at the existing state-owned ports wield tremendous power at their work sites, and sources at the Histadrut labor federation expressed a measure of disappointment that the hold placed on the tender process was not extended beyond the initial 30 days. The Histadrut is demanding that the state's plans to go forward with bids on the private ports be conditioned on the state negotiating the employment terms that would prevail at the publicly and privately run ports once the private ports are in operation. Up to now, negotiations - which were carried out by order of the court - have come to naught.
The state contends that injecting competition into the port sector will reduce shipping costs and the cost of living, and that this takes precedence over demands by the port workers for agreement in advance.
The Histadrut issued a statement blaming the state: "The government's representatives have dug in their heals in their positions without demonstrating a readiness to find solutions or to come to an understanding with the Histadrut and workers committees. All this is a direct extension of the conduct of the state's representatives last month when they did not demonstrate a willingness to hold intensive negotiations and good faith negotiations."
A senior state negotiator countered that the workers' aim is to hold up the construction of the private ports. "There is no serious discussion," he said. Instead, the union representatives are making "more and more unreasonable demands."