Labor Court Stops Strike, Finds Fault With State

A court order ended the public sector strike yesterday morning, but hours later, chaos still reigned at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Flights were delayed, and hundreds of passengers were stuck, as airlines struggled to resume operations.

The National Labor Tribunal accepted a petition from the Manufacturers' Association, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and the Israel Airports Authority, seeking an order that would force the Histadrut labor federation to call off a strike that paralyzed government services Wednesday. However, the court president, Judge Stephen Adler, and judges Yigal Plitman and Nili Arad, gave the Finance Ministry until December 7 to transfer aid to local governments so they can pay salaries and debts to thousands of workers, with the exception of a small number of problematic municipalities with liens on their bank accounts, which will be handled separately.

The 600,000 strong civil service struck to support local government and religious council staffers and firefighters who have not received salaries or social benefits.

The labor court determined the state will send teams to make payroll arrangements for the problematic localities and present them to the Histadrut. The court also ordered the Interior Ministry director general, the treasury wages director and the Histadrut chair to appear before it at noon next Thursday and report on progress toward resolving the problems.

The national labor judges sharply criticized the state's handling of unpaid local government salaries. "We view the reoccurring phenomenon of failure to pay staffers and retirees from local government, religious councils and fire services, and the failure to transfer funds to provident, pension and continuing education funds, with tremendous severity. This unacceptable occurrence must be uprooted. A proper society cannot live with this situation."

Histadrut chair Ofer Eini responded to the ruling: "The one-week verdict is crucial to eradicating payroll delays. I hope I will not be forced to resume the strike in December. We will accept no less than a real solution. The ball is in the court of the finance and interior ministers. If they continue to treat the crisis as they have until now, we will strike again."

The treasury and Interior Ministry will collect data next week on local governments that have not paid wages in recent months. In the next stage, possibly by the end of next week, the state will pay those unpaid wages and social benefits.

Senior treasury officials said yesterday both the 2006 and 2007 state budgets include NIS 700-800 million for rehabilitating local government, so the funds exist. Since the money exists, the official said, the venture will not rupture the budget framework, but merely change fund transfer dates.