State Fails in Bid to Exclude Court From Port Controversy

Finance Ministry vows to push ahead with ports reform, saying the high court only deferred the state's petition temporarily.

The High Court of Justice yesterday denied the state's request for an interim injunction against the National Labor Court's interference in state plans to create privately run port facilities designed to compete with the state-run ports in Haifa and Ashdod, where unions hold sway.

For the time being, the ruling will allow the Labor Court to continue to adjudicate the dispute between the state and the Histadrut labor federation regarding proposed reforms at the ports of Haifa and Ashdod. Justice Zvi Zylbertal stated in his ruling that both the state and the Histadrut would be given the opportunity to file revised motions until September 2.

The Finance Ministry responded by saying that the High Court had not rejected the state's request outright, and that thegovernment would continue to push forward with port reforms. The High Court did not reject the state's petition, but ruled that the petition would be addressed after both sides update the Labor Court, the ministry said in a statement.

The finance and transportation ministries will continue to act to promote the establishment of the new privately run ports to open the sea ports to competition, something that will help lower the cost of living and open Israel's international trade, it added.

The state had filed a petition with the High Court last week, asking it to rescind a Labor Court ruling freezing the process by which the state was soliciting bids for the establishment of privatelyrun ports. The Labor Court froze the tenders at the end of July, at the request of the Histadrut, finding that the requests for bids on the job constituted an attempt by the state to establish facts on the ground. The court also said the process demonstrated a lack of good faith in negotiations with port workers.

The Histadrut filed a response to the High Court, asking it to reject the state's request for aninterim injunction on the grounds that the reform agreements obligated the state to hold negotiations regarding the new plan for the ports.

The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce had joined the government in the case, claiming that the Labor Court displayed faulty judgment when it ruled that the Histadrut's declaration of a work dispute was legal.

This is a sophisticated attempt by the Histadrut to neutralize the opening of the economy to competition by illegitimate means to preserve its monopolistic power and dissuade the government fromcarrying out a decision made in accordance with its role and authority, it stated in court.

Tomer Appelbaum