Haifa Chemicals to Close Plant, 400 to Be Made Redundant

Move comes after court sets final deadline to decommission ammonia tank that facility needs in order to function

The Haifa Chemicals factory that is due to close, August 1, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Haifa Chemicals will be shutting its Haifa Bay plant and firing its 400 workers after a monthslong effort to hold on to the giant ammonia tank critical to its operations was thwarted in court last week.

“In light of recent developments, the company is now weighing the situation and will release a statement after the Tisha B’Av holiday,” a Haifa Chemicals spokesman said on Tuesday. The company declined to comment further, but union officials representing the company's 400 employees said the plant was closing and vowed to fight it. They said employees had been called for dismissal hearings, as required by law, starting next Sunday.

The move comes after the Supreme Court ruled last week that the 12,000-ton ammonia tank would have to be emptied and shut down by September 18, apparently exhausting all appeals.

The Haifa municipality sought to shut down the tank since March, after a study pointed to risks to the area, including the release of noxious fumes into the air, if the tank broke or sustained damage. The company resisted those efforts.

On Tuesday, union officials insisted it was management’s fault that the situation had come to this. “The attempts to present the ammonia crisis as a complicated matter that no one can be blamed for are wrong,” said Eli Lutati, a member of the workers committee for the Koach La Ovdim labor union.

“Management knew for four years that it would have to replace the tank and did nothing. Since last March, when it became clear that the tank really would be closed, management has cyclically used the [company’s] 1,500 workers in the north and south and their families, and gave the false impression that closing the tank would mean closing the factory.”

Haifa Chemicals, which is controlled by the American-Jewish Trump Family (no relation to the U.S. president), also operates a plant in the south of the country. It employs about 400 people and will remain open.

The company's management hopes to supply ammonia to its southern plant, but sources said there was questions about whether the toxins permit that will not be renewed for the Haifa plant as per the court's ruling also applies to the southern plant. Legal sources said the decision appeared to apply only to the Haifa Bay facility.

Haifa Chemical makes potassium nitrate for agriculture and industry, specialty plant nutrients and food phosphates. The Manufacturers Association of Israel estimates that it accounts for about 2% of Israel’s industrial exports. Nearly all of its $650 million in annual sales are from exports, the company says.

Jules Trump was in Israel last week as the struggle over the tank was coming to a head and warned that the Haifa Bay plant would be closed if no alternative was found for supplying it with ammonia.

In an interview with TheMarker, Trump, 72, admitted that "The old tank is dead” but said he hoped to find an alternative way for the plant to continue to obtain ammonia, which is supplied by tanker.

“The remaining two alternatives are to send [the ammonia] through the same pipe that reaches the ammonia tank directly to the [small] tanks near the plant." He added that another option was to bring the ammonia from the tanker to the plant by truck. "If we do not get permission to operate the business immediately, we will close it,“ he said.