Israel Railways Workers Cancel Planned Strike, After Late-night Deal Struck

Strike announcement comes after railways management summoned the workers’ union representatives for pre-dismissal hearings, suspended the union chief, fired two union members.

Israel Railways and the Histadrut Labor Federation reached an agreement early Tuesday morning, averting a train strike that was scheduled to start that day. The strike was cancelled in the last moment, following overnight negotiations to end the labor dispute and a historical reform in the train system.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini will speak at a press conference to declare the details of the agreement that was reached overnight.

A Tel Aviv train station stands empty during train strike November 7, 2011.
Nir Kafri

Under the agreement, each railway worker will be granted NIS 40,000 and a salary raise of 25%. In return, they must promise to preserve industrial peace for three years.

In addition, 140 ticketing office staffers will be bound by a group agreement for direct employment by Israel Railways, and managerial staff and workers will sign a new group agreement, which will expire in eight years.

In addition, a subsidiary will no longer be established for maintenance operations, and instead, old railcars will be maintained by an external contractor. Maintenance of train cars will remain the responsibility of staff, but they agreed to a comprehensive reform for maintenance of mobile equipment.

All disciplinary measures against committee members, including dismissals and suspensions, were canceled.

The agreement prevented a labor dispute encompassing public transportation, as well as sea and air ports, that was scheduled to take place Tuesday.

On Monday, the Histadrut said on Monday it would go ahead with the strike unless Israel Railways returns to the negotiating table, and revokes the suspension of a union leader and the dismissal of two other union members.

Israel Railways chairman Uri Yogev and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini met Monday night in a bid to end the labor dispute. They discussed the Transportation Ministry’s plans to privatize the railways and the suspension and dismissal of union members.

“The talks are being held in a positive atmosphere and we’re making progress,” Israel Railways CEO Boaz Zafrir said on Monday.

The strike announcement came after the railways management summoned the workers’ union representatives for pre-dismissal hearings on Sunday, then suspended union chief Gila Edrei and fired two union members.

Until Sunday, both management and Histadrut reported they were making progress in the negotiations. But the suspension and dismissal of union leaders in the midst of negotiations “crossed a line” as far as the Histadrut was concerned. Eini said that unless the suspensions were revoked, the railway workers would go on strike.

Israel Railways’ employees and management have been locked in a bitter conflict over plans to reform the government company for months. The workers and Histadrut object to plans to privatize the company and outsource much of the work.
The management says the union is preventing Israel Railways from upgrading maintenance, and that union members were using violence and threatening workers.

This is an ongoing story, further details will be added when more information on the agreement surfaces.