Wildcat Strike at Seaports to End Thursday Night After Deal Reached

Meanwhile, labor dispute at Israel Chemicals to end after deal reached drastically slashing number of workers to be laid off.

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Haifa port. A  decline in exports helped drive down the GDP in the second half of 2013.
Haifa port. A decline in exports helped drive down the GDP in the second half of 2013.Credit: Bloomberg

The port workers in both Ashdod and Haifa will end their surprise wildcat strike on Thursday evening after a deal was reached with the Histadrut labor federation and the leaders of the local unions.

Meanwhile, a bitter four-month labor dispute at Israel Chemicals ended on Thursday with unions and management reaching an agreement about the number of employees to be laid off at two ICL units. 

Representatives from both ports met with Histadrut chief Avi Nissenkorn after the Labor Court in both Ashdod and Haifa deemed the strike illegal and ordered them to work. The defiant port workers vowed to continue to strike, but agreed to meet with Nissenkorn, who managed to reach a compromise with the workers.

The port workers skipped sessions held by the courts Thursday and during the court sessions the Histadrut informed judges that the strike did not have their approval.

Both Labor Courts ordered the port workers back to go back to work, but the unions ignored the court rulings. The Histadrut said Thursday morning: "We have lost contact with the unions."

The Haifa port union said in response that "the employees in the Haifa port have forbidden their representatives from taking part in the hearing." According to them, the steps were taken in "coordinated with the Ashdod port workers."

They said that the representatives of the two ports held what they described as "a raucous discussion" Wednesday evening with the chairman of the Histadrut Avi Nissenkorn, and vowed to battle until the end. They said they expected the Histadrut to support them. 

The Ashdod port workers went on strike, followed quickly by their Haifa colleagues in protest at the licensing of Chinese companies to build and operate two new, private ports.

A ceremony was scheduled for Thursday to mark the formal presentation of licenses to the two Chinese companies that won the government tender to build and operate two new private ports adjacent to, and in competition with the two existing ports. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was scheduled to attend the ceremony.

The Manufacturers Association estimates the direct daily cost of the port strikes at some 75 million shekels a day.

The immediate damage is caused by such things as goods passing their expiration date, such as the export and import of fresh food, including fruits and vegetable, and medical equipment stuck in the ports. The longer the strike lasts, the greater the damage will become.

In a related move, the chief steward of the Ashdod port union, Avinoam Shashan, announced his resignation as the head of the union on Wednesday, just six months after being reelected to the post with 92 percent of the votes. Shoshan replaced former union head Alon Hassan, who is facing criminal charges.  It is assumed Shoshan's resignations was caused by disagreements between Shoshan and the Histadrut.

Meanwhile, a bitter four-month labor dispute at Israel Chemicals ended on Thursday with unions and management agreeing that the number of employees laid off at two ICL units would be reduced to just 38 from the 155 management had originally sought.

ICL management and union leaders signed the agreement Thursday morning at the Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv after a night of marathon negotiations. Under the agreement, 19 workers at the two ICL units – Bromine Compounds and Dead Sea Works – will lose their jobs at the end of the year. Four other workers are in line to be axed, subject to a union veto, which is likely to be given.

Workers struck the two pants starting in February after ICL announced the layoffs, which would have been the first time in the company’s history that layoffs were not done through a voluntary-retirement scheme. Although the firings are far fewer than management wanted, it did win from unions other concessions, most importantly the right to move staff between different factories and departments.

It also won the right to merge departments. In exchange, ICL promised it would seek no further layoffs before the end of 2018. Those who are being laid off will be getting generous severance terms equal to 300% of monthly salary multiplied by the number of years they worked for the company. Those who accept a buyout offer in the next two weeks will get 400% severance pay,

ICL, which is controlled by Idan Ofer through The Israel Corporation, has been trying to cut costs as it is being forced to pay higher royalties for the right to mine minerals from the Dead Sea. Shares of ICL closed down 1.4% on Thursday on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange at 27.68 shekels ($7.13).

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