Israel's Top Workers' Union Sets Stage for Possible Train Strike in Two Weeks

Histadrut announces work dispute over complaints of outsourced maintenance that Israel Railways says was agreed upon in 2012.

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The Histadrut labor federation set the stage Monday for a possible train strike or labor slowdown if its demands are not met in two weeks.

"The railway's management is behaving in a unilateral fashion toward its employees, harming them and the traveling public," said Avi Edri, chairman of the Histadrut's transportation workers union.

Edri said the union would make an effort not to negatively affect train passengers, but the announcement of a work dispute means that the Histadrut will be legally allowed to take steps to disrupt train service if a negotiated resolution is not reached after a cooling-off period of 14 days.

The Histadrut provided several reasons for the work dispute it announced Monday, including a decision by Israel Railway's management to outsource maintenance work and management's refusal to include workers who refuel trains under a collective bargaining agreement. The train refuelers work under temporary contracts that give them fewer benefits.

The union is also protesting the railway's plan to install cameras near ticket windows, which it says infringes on workers' privacy.

Israel Railways announced in August that 13 employees were suspected of pocketing millions of shekels from ticket sales, and the company said Monday it was surprised by the union's objection to the cameras in light of the alleged theft.

"It pains us that the Histadrut is threatening to disrupt the activities of Israel Railways after it signed a collective bargaining agreement last year for structural change at the railway, including bonuses for workers and a guarantee on their part to preserve industrial quiet," the railway's management said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the French company Alstom was awarded an outsourcing contract to handle the maintenance for 30% of Israel Railways train cars in a tender lasting 15 years and worth NIS 1.5 billion.

The outsourcing of maintenance work for Israel Railways’ old railcars, which have relatively high maintenance costs, was part of a collective agreement accepted by railway employees last year.

In May, railway schedules were disrupted when more train drivers than usual called in sick, apparently as part of a slowdown to protest new work arrangements. The disruption followed a move by railway management to automate train conductors' schedules instead of having shift supervisors decide who gets which shift.

Credit: Israel Railways

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