Israeli Union Head Warns on Power Reform

Histadrut won’t support electricity center reformation plan if government drops lawsuit on public sector strikes, labor union chief warns

Avi Nissenkorn in Tel Aviv on May 27th, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Setting the stage for a clash with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn warned he would not support a major reform of the electricity sector unless the government backed off a legal dispute over public-sector strikes.

“We have agreements and if they’re not honored, there’ll be no reform,” Nissenkorn told a news conference. “We have a reform plan and it’s the right one, but let me make clear we won’t give up the right to strike. That’s a matter of life and death for the Histadrut.”

The deal reached in December between the government and unions trades measures to increase competition in the power sector for cutbacks at state-owned Israel Electric Corp., which is largely controlled by powerful labor unions.

Under the deal, the government agreed to withdraw a High Court of Justice petition demanding restrictions on strikes at state monopolies like IEC, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly opposed the reversal.

He said he was on board with an interim agreement to reduce the workweek by an hour to 42, but wanted to bring Israel in line with the average for members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In fact, the 42-hour week has not been implemented because Labor Minister Haim Katz has not signed off on it. Nissenkorn said he expected this to be done in time for it to go into effect on March 1.

The shorter workweek will mainly affect employees who are entitled to overtime pay, which will kick in four hours earlier on average every month. In effect, hourly pay will also rise, since the same amount will be divided into fewer hours.