Treasury Angling to Ban Public-sector Strikes

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Could Israel's public-sector workers be prohibited from striking over their employment conditions? They could if finance officials have their way.

The Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry are threatening to ban workers belonging to some of the country's most powerful unions from striking, by adding a clause to the Economic Arrangements bill.

That Economic Arrangements bill is a hodgepodge of unrelated legislative proposals that get packaged together and tacked onto the budget bill every year. In this case the budget and bill relate to two years, 2013 and 2014.

The proposed clause would ban strikes by workers in essential jobs, including at the Israel Electric Corporation, the ports, the water utility and the airports.

Representatives of the Finance Ministry will be discussing these issues with the Histadrut Labor Federation in the course of talks on the 2013-2014 budget.

However, the umbrella union isn't likely to just roll over: a source at the Histadrut speaking over the weekend called it a power play. "The Histadrut won't be cowed by threats, and won't be deterred from fighting to protect workers in the public sector from change to their status," the source said.

The Histadrut plans to convene the internal organ that discusses labor actions such as strikes on Tuesday. It is expected to recommend that the union's management declare a nationwide labor dispute.

If the Histadrut formally declares a labor dispute, it can launch a strike after 14 days.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has said the government intends to hack NIS 26 billion from its budget for 2013 and 2014.

The Histadrut has said it will not allow the state to cut salaries, but is apparently willing to put off public-sector raises by two years, until 2015.

Eini said over the weekend that he hoped he could prevent a strike, "because that's not my way." He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to push Lapid into a confrontation with the Histadrut, possibly "to burn him politically," but added that he hoped "that Lapid won't fall into that trap."

A strike at El Al badly disrupts air traffic from Israel: April 22, 2013. The state would like this not to happen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Union chief Ofer Eini arrives at Finance Minister Lapid Yair Lapid's home in Tel Aviv. April 9, 2013.Credit: Moti Milrod

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