Public-sector Strike Averted as Deal on Contract Workers Reached

Agreement between state and labor union will see 15,000 people working in public sector be employed directly by the government.

Yossi Zamir

The Histadrut labor federation has canceled a general strike scheduled for Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the government on the issue of contract workers in the public sector.

The agreement calls for 15,000 people working in the public sector, who had been employed by personnel agencies rather than by the government or state agencies, to be placed on the state’s payroll. An additional 30,000 outsourced staff will remain in the employ of outside agencies, but their employment terms will be improved as a result of the agreement signed on Monday by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn.

The new agreement is expected to cost the state about 150 million shekels ($39.2 million) a year.

The deal followed marathon negotiations over the past 48 hours at the Finance Ministry, with Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz also participating in the latter stages.

The Histadrut has focused on the issue of contract workers, believing that their employment terms are inferior to those who work directly for the government. Last November, it declared a labor dispute – the legal prerequisite to the declaration of a strike – in which it asked that the number of contract workers be reduced. In recent weeks, Nissenkorn raised the specter of a public-sector strike, beginning tomorrow, if the matter was not resolved. The labor federation has now agreed not to strike over the issue until the end of 2016 at the earliest.

As in previous instances when strikes were threatened, the matter was resolved shortly before the strike was due to begin. This time, the labor federation had mounted a media campaign on the issue that cost millions of shekels.

Kahlon and Nissenkorn failed to reach an agreement on the issue of contract workers who work in the exact same position as public-sector staff but are employed by outside manpower agencies. The two agreed, however, to continue negotiating on the problem.

The agreement should result in the health-care system taking on some 5,000 paraprofessional hospital workers who, until now, had been employed by research institutes, which were functioning as personnel agencies of sorts. The shift to direct employment will be carried out gradually over four years.

The agreement also provides for the direct employment of school nurses next year. Some 1,500 maintenance personnel at state hospitals are also to be employed directly, along with those working at hospitals belonging to the Clalit health maintenance organization.

The agreement doesn’t apply to janitorial staff who currently work for cleaning companies; they will remain on those companies’ payrolls.

In the educational system, some 5,000 kindergarten classroom aides whose employment is funded by local authorities will now be employed directly. In contrast, 3,000 educators who teach enrichment courses through a program of the Karev Foundation will not be employed directly as public-sector workers. However, the previous practice in which they were laid off for three months during the summer and then rehired in the fall will be abandoned. They will now be employed on a 12-month basis and receive fringe benefits such as employer contributions to their pension funds.

Also, as of 2016, some 12,000 school and kindergarten security guards and maintenance workers will be employed throughout the year.