Threatening Strike, Union Calls for NIS 1,000 Increase to Minimum Wage

Unions are permitted to launch sanctions two weeks after declaring a labor dispute.

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Avi Nissenkorn at the Histadrut meeting declaring a labor dispute, November 18, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Histadrut labor federation declared a nationwide labor dispute on Tuesday, as it demanded that the government raise minimum wage by a full 1,000 shekels ($260) a month – nearly 25% more than the current minimum wage of 4,300 shekels.

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn said that if the labor union could not reach an agreement with the government on this, it would launch a nationwide strike.

Unions are permitted to launch sanctions two weeks after declaring a labor dispute.

This is the first time Nissenkorn has given an actual number detailing the increase in minimum wage Israel’s national labor union is seeking.

A group of Knesset members leading an effort to raise minimum wage are pushing for a greater increase, to 5,580 shekels a month – or 30 shekels an hour, up from the current 23.12 shekels.

The current minimum has been in place for more than two years.

Nissenkorn declared the labor dispute on Tuesday at a meeting in front of dozens of union representatives from Histadrut branches at various companies.

A second reason behind the labor dispute is the growing number of subcontracted workers employed at government ministries, local authorities and schools, stated Nissenkorn.

A third reason is the government’s unwillingness to include its ministries in a directive requiring private-sector employers to hire workers with disabilities.

Nissenkorn noted that he has a child with disabilities.

The union of middle-school and high-school teachers joined the labor dispute declaration, and is threatening to shut or disrupt some schools in two weeks.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has expressed willingness to increase the minimum wage by 200 shekels a month, after consulting with private sector representatives. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett also has expressed willingness, but has not given any numbers.

The specific numbers that Nissenkorn is demanding – which most likely came as a surprise to Israel’s economic leaders – are likely to engender broad objections from the cabinet. A likely counter proposal would be to raise minimum wage by the sum Nissenkorn is demanding over the course of several years, in several increments.

A nationwide strike by the Histadrut would include the entire public sector, including government ministries, local authorities, nurses at government hospitals and the Clalit health maintenance organization, the Israel Airports Authority, ports, university management and the central bank. Private sector workers including bank and stock market employees may also join.

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