Oil Refineries Strike Postponed as Gov't Companies Director Sits Shiva

Union had suddenly called strike, claiming gov't was ignoring job security rights

The Histadrut labor federation has called off the strike suddenly declared at the Ashdod facility of Oil Refineries, in sympathy for the death of Government Companies Authority director Eyal Gabbai's father.

Last week a dispute erupted between the Histadrut and the Government Companies Authority. At a meeting at the company's headquarters in Ramat Gan on Friday, the union representatives complained that the GCA and the Finance Ministry had completely ignored a paper the union had given them about job security for the Oil Refineries workers.

The apparent breakdown in talks happened after the parties had agreed in principle on the framework for restructuring privatization: each Oil Refineries worker was to receive about NIS 300,000.

David Galanos, the chairman of the Energy sector at the Histadrut, ordered the strike at Oil Refineries' Ashdod refinery. It was not a wildcat strike, though: a labor dispute had been officially declared beforehand.

But at the explicit directive of the new chairman of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini, the strike has been called off while Gabbai sits shiva. He cannot in any case hold negotiations while in mourning, Eini reasoned.

Afterward, though, the workers could make good on their threat to block fuel supplies to protest the crisis in the talks. The chairman of the Oil Refineries union, Reuven Schwartzberg, clarified that the good-will hiatus did not mean the strike was over. "We shall resume the strike at the end of the shiva unless progress is made in the talks," he stated.

Last week Galanos said, "If the crisis is not resolved through negotiations, I will direct the Haifa refinery workers to join the strike."

 The disruptions could lead to shortages at gas stations.

Sources at the Finance Ministry and GCA last week expressed astonishment at the strike declared at Ashdod, calling it inappropriate muscle-flexing. "The talks are progressing properly and the Histadrut's real motive behind this irresponsible act is unclear," one said.

The compensation mentioned above is based on the understanding that the Oil Refineries workers would be able to buy 10% of the company's shares at a 30% discount, or alternatively 3% of the total cash proceeds of the company's sale.

The plan for privatizing Oil Refineries calls for incorporating the two refineries as competing government companies, then selling the Ashdod one and floating the Haifa refinery  on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.