The Strike Is Over

For now. Gov't has to pay withheld salaries today, and talks will continue over pension provisions

The strike encompassing all government offices and ministries has ended. Nor may it be resumed in the course of the week, the president of the National Labor Tribunal ruled on Wednesday night.

After a long hearing in the presence of Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini and the head of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh, Judge Steve Adler ruled that the government had to immediately pay back-wages owed to workers at local authorities and religious councils, except in cases in which the treasury is at odds with the Histadrut.

The withheld wages must be paid today, Adler ruled.

Meanwhile, discussions will continue about local authorities and religious councils that are too bankrupt to pay their workers in the future too.

A separate discussion will be held on provisions that the government neglected to make on behalf of workers to pension funds, training funds and the like.

Talks between government and union representatives on Wednesday proved fruitless: the parties were unable to resolve the issues at stake.

The strike by the nation's 600,000 civil servants effectively shut down government service for a day. The public sector and the Histadrut were protesting delays in wage payment to local government and religious council employees and firefighters.

The strike grounded outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport, paralyzed ports and trains, and closed all land borders, government offices, employment bureaus, courts, National Insurance Institute (NII) branches, the Israel Lands Administration and vehicle licensing offices.

The oil refineries were also on strike, creating the threat that gasoline would run short.

Official documents such as passports were not issued during the strike, and NII assessment committees did meeting. Post office branches were open, but mail was not delivered.

The local authority strike meant garbage was not be collected and parking tickets were not be issued.

In anticipation of the strike, El Al rescheduled 13 flights that took off overnight Tuesday instead of during the day on Wednesday as planned. A few flights were given humanitarian exceptions by the Histadrut including a flight to Kiev carrying dozens of Ukrainian patients being treated in Israel and four incoming flights from distant locations. However, the hundreds of passengers on those flights were forced to leave their luggage at the airport as the cargo conveyor was not operating.

The union also allowed a flight bringing the Goldwasser and Regev families back from Brussels to land Wednesday morning. Tuesday night, a flight from Amman was allowed to land as Israelis sought to return from travels via Jordan. Jordanian officials urged Israel to get the planeload of Israelis out of its territory, rather than send the Israelis to hotels in the capital.

Failure to meet agreements
The labor union blamed the problem on the treasury's failure to fulfill an agreement under which it was to transfer money to local governments to pay salaries by September 30. "We declared a labor dispute on July 12, but hostilities broke out in the north that day and we decided to allow the nation to recover. Local government workers are fed up," the Histadrut said Wednesday.

The Manufacturers Association petition asked the labor court to issue an injunction ordering the treasury, Interior Ministry and Union of Local Authorities to resolve the problem of withheld paychecks and social benefits within seven days, under court supervision.

The organization says each day of the strike costs NIS 350 million, mostly by paralyzing exports and imports. The petition argues "local authority, religious council and fire service workers have the basic right to receive their pay and social benefits on time. It is their basic right to use all legal means to enforce that right; however, all public sector functioning cannot be halted for that right."

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce cited a higher figure in its petition, claiming that the first day of the strike had already cost Israel NIS 500 million.

Hirchson on Wednesday called on the Histadrut labor federation to end the strike. He said the strike was unnecessary in light of ongoing talks to resolve the problem.

Hirchson also said most local governments had reached agreements with the Histadrut and the treasury on the subject of salaries. The treasury alleges some local governments have racked up huge debts, and it is difficult to find solutions to their financial straits. The treasury also says these local authorities are improperly run and it will be impossible to transfer more money to them until their management issues are resolved.

Meanwhile Wednesday, treasury wages supervisor Eli Cohen instructed ministry directors general and civil service employers to dock striking workers' wages. The memo orders payroll divisions to withhold wages relative to the extent of the strike: in units that operate at partial capacity, partial wages will be paid; in units that go on full strike, all wages will be withheld.