Talks Progressing Over Ashdod, Haifa Port Privatization

Gov’t offers freeze on firings, wage cuts, plus delay in opening private ports.

In negotiations with the Ashdod and Haifa port unions, the government is offering not to cut workers’ wages nor terminate any employees, and to postpone the opening of new, competing private ports to 2022 instead of 2019, when the first of the two was expected to go into operation. These are the main concessions on the table in exchange for the unions’ agreement to the implementation of the ports reform.

TheMarker has learned that tangible progress has been made in talks held by finance and transportation ministry officials with port union leaders and the Histadrut labor federation in their two meetings so far, which took place last Thursday and the week before. The workers are being asked to agree to the construction and operation of one or two private ports, and full or partial privatization of the companies running the existing ports. The government is also insisting that the job and wage security apply only to current port employees and not those who will be hired in the future, and that an incentive plan is set up to ensure at least minimum output at the ports.

Talks will continue over the next two weeks to hammer out the details of the offer and deal with other issues remaining in dispute, such as those concerning upgrading of infrastructure at the existing ports.

In response to the government’s wage guarantees, the unions agreed that these wouldn’t cover the workers’ automatic pay increases to which they’re entitled under their collective agreements. These include an automatic 1% annual pay hike plus adjustments for inflation, which have averaged 3% in recent years.

The government’s offer covers the 2,300 workers currently on the payroll and not newly-hired replacements for workers retiring by 2022. It also insists that replacements only be recruited if management deems it necessary.

300 vying for CEO

Over objections by the Government Companies Authority, Ashdod Port’s board of directors is continuing its search for a new CEO. Two months after Shuki Sagis stepped down from the position, a tender issued to find a replacement attracted 300 applications.

The list of candidates was expected to be pared down to 10 finalists yesterday by the board’s search committee. Meanwhile the GCA has taken steps to oust the committee’s three members from the board, including chairman Gideon Sitterman.

Two weeks ago the head of the GCA, Ori Yogev, ordered a stop to the tender process after the three committee members were called in for a hearing prior to their dismissal. But Ashdod Port Company’s board, however, questioned Yogev’s authority to intervene in the tender.

Ilya Melnikov