Rail Strike on Hold Until at Least July 1

The country's railroad staff will not be able to strike until July 1 at the earliest, as part of an agreement struck yesterday.

In order to go on strike before then, they will need court approval.

The agreement followed a hearing at the National Labor Court in Tel Aviv yesterday, which was attended by representatives of the Histadrut labor federation, the railroad's labor committee and Israel Railways CEO Yitzhak Harel.

Train service was shut down nationwide Thursday when railroad workers called a wildcat strike after 10 of their colleagues, including the railway union's top officials, were arrested during a demonstration Wednesday evening that turned violent.

The workers were on strike until 2 P.M. that day, even though a judge had ordered them back to work 12 hours earlier.

The judge in the case incorporated the terms of yesterday's agreement into a court order, giving it the force of law.

The parties are to report back to the court every 10 days on their progress in the negotiations. Senior Transportation Ministry staff and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini will be involved in the talks.

The issues on the table include railroad safety, the application of public sector wage agreements on railway employees and the intention of management to outsource train car maintenance.

Yesterday's agreement will bar the railroad from contracting for maintenance from the Canadian passenger train car maker Bombardier, the firm from which Israel Railways is buying new cars.

Eini has warned Israel Railways' management against unilateral steps to privatize railroad operations, saying the labor federation was in favor of steps to enhance safety, but would do everything in its power to oppose such a move if it was being used as a subterfuge for privatization.