Audit Reveals Extent of Union Influence at Ashdod Port

Close associate of union boss Alon Hassan was short-tracked for plum job that was unnecessary and for which he was not qualified.

Last week's threat by Ashdod Port union boss Alon Hassan to sue the port’s internal auditor Ilan Abukarat was not a response to investigations into his own activities, but to an audit of his close associate, Koby Kedar, a crane instructor at the port. Kedar refused to cooperate with the audit, on Hassan’s instructions.

Incidentally, Kedar was recently caught on film by Channel 2 TV, apparently supervising work at one of Hassan’s restaurants.

The findings of the audit were handed over to management a month ago, but the details have only come to light now. They reveal the extent to which the port union is involved in the state-owned port’s management, explaining, perhaps, why the union is up in arms.

In the wake of the audit, Kedar has been returned to his previous position as bridge crane operator. Hassan's response, in addition to threatening to sue the internal auditor, was to order dockworkers to begin a slowdown.

The job of instructor is more lucrative than that of crane operator, with pay reaching NIS 40,000 a month, in addition to easily-earned bonuses. Kedar participated in the last tender for the position in 2007, but lost out to Yigal Gozland, one of Hassan’s closest friends and former business partner. Hassan himself sat on the panel that chose the winning candidate.

Gozland was later convicted of insurance fraud and sent to prison for seven years, after burning down his own pub.

The union, with management’s help, made sure Gozland’s job wouldn’t stay vacant for long. The report describes how Ovadia Cohen, the port’s vice-president for human resources, pushed to have the position quickly filled and asked Alon Mualem of the mechanical equipment workers committee to name a candidate. As a note of interest, two years ago the port shut down for several hours while 900 dockworkers attended Mualem’s wedding.

Mualem recommended Kedar for the post of instructor. As to why Cohen approached Mualem, the human resources division responded: “The vice-president, like many other senior officials in operations, routinely consults with the relevant workers committee before making a non-routine decision.” This seems to be a clear admission of direct and active intervention by the union in manning professional positions, despite conflict of interest concerns and even if a tender is required.

The human resources division stressed that a candidate would not be accepted without management approval, a claim that did not impress the writers of the audit report. “It isn’t clear why the committee was asked to name a candidate,” the report said. “In the audit’s opinion, the company’s professional ranks should have been asked to recommend one or more suitable candidates for the job, rather than exclusively asking a union representative for a name.”

To this, human resources responded: “Cooperation between management and the union has been a key reason for the company’s business success in recent years.”

Eight hours to examine a crane

Kedar has clearly received preferential treatment over his fellow instructors since assuming the job in 2012. While the five other instructors were each assigned between two and seven training sessions a year out of a total of 19, the newly appointed Kedar was chosen to lead no less than 11 sessions.

“A more equitable distribution of training sessions could have made it unnecessary to appoint a full-time instructor,” the auditors pointed out.

When Kedar wasn’t occupied with leading courses he was supposedly meant to be operating a crane. But a creative solution was found to his relustance to return to his former function: the job of crane inspector.

Nobody really knows what a crane inspector at Ashdod Port does. During the audit it was discovered that the port has no idea what the position entails, who is certified to inspect cranes, what experience and knowledge is needed, what actually needs to be checked and how long each inspection takes. The position was created long ago to provide work for full-time instructors at the port between training sessions, but the practice has since disappeared - and, in any case, Kedar isn’t a full-time instructor.

“It isn’t clear why there is a need to continue employing a worker in this field,” the auditors wrote, especially when it turns out that Kedar is currently the sole crane inspector at the port.

Furthermore, the job of checking cranes at the port was transferred last year to the port’s workshops. “So in any case the position became completely redundant and it isn’t clear why Kedar continued performing the inspections in 2013,” according to the report. Even the human resources divisions conceded the lack of logic and said it would correct the situation.

Nonetheless, rather than returning to work as a crane operator, Kedar continued his inspections, claiming that each crane took a full eight-hour shift to inspect. Asked to comment, the head of the port’s operations department said that what is involved is a technical-visual inspection that shouldn’t take so long. Kedar even reported six double inspections, each performed on the same day, for which he was able to claim a double premium. The auditors determined that he was operating entirely on his accord without instructions or a plan of action.

“No CEO would accept such behavior”

The port’s management began investigating the legal basis for Kedar's extra pay claims and recommended that he go back to operating a crane. But Hassan had other plans, insisting Kedar be assigned to unloading inbound shipments of cars, which is a particularly lucrative position under the new labor contract. Management refused, maintaining that it wouldn’t be logical to assign a crane operator to work that is unfamiliar. In response, the workers committee launched a wildcat strike, preventing cars from being unloaded. At least one ship abandoned the port in favor of Haifa port, resulting in losses estimated at NIS 1.5 million.

As the port’s internal auditor, Abukarat has always avoided dealing in matters concerning Hassan. Abukarat’s wife is the daughter of attorney Shmuel Mishuk, who represents Hassan and serves as legal counsel for the mechanical equipment workers committee. In the letter threatening to sue, Hassan claimed that Abukarat's involvement in the audit of Kedar raised concerns of a conflict of interest. However, the audit didn’t deal with Hassan and was conducted by Abukarat’s deputy, together with an outside auditing firm.

Regrading the conduct of Human Resources VP Ovadia Cohen and the criticism leveled against him, port officials said: “Management sees these things in a serious light and has ordered the vice-president to draw a line between company management and labor. A new CEO at the port won’t be able to accept conduct that blurs the lines between management and the union’s influence on it.”

Representing Hassan, attorney Ronel Fisher responded: “In the previous round, the internal auditor believed he wasn’t fit to audit, due to finding himself in a conflict of interest. All Hassan is asking is how someone who yesterday wasn’t fit to audit became fit today. The question is valid, but hasn’t been given a response – and not by chance. At the very least, this is an unsuccessful incident on the part of the auditor, and if port management backed him up, it also has a problem. Hassan’s instruction to Kedar was due to the very same problem.”

Kedar was unavailable for comment.

Eliyah Melnikov