Layoffs Spreading Across Sectors, Bankrupt Supermarket Looted in North

The economic crisis took a further hit at Israel's economy yesterday, as hundreds of high-tech employees received pink slips. Comverse Technology announced plans to dismiss hundreds of workers in Israel and abroad, and electronics manufacturer Flextronics began firing about 200 employees at its Ofakim plant - just two months after dismissing 200 workers at its Migdal Ha'emek facility.

Comverse said it planned to dismiss about 450 workers, about 10 percent of its workforce, just two months after letting go about 150 employees, half of them in Israel.

"I'm sitting in the office, reading in the papers about those poor guys at Pri Galil, and then it turns out that I'm not better off than they are," a Comverse employee said a few hours after reading about her employer's plans.

Workers said rumors about an imminent wave of dismissals had been circulating around the company for a few weeks.

"In the office everything seems relaxed, people tell cynical jokes, that's how tech workers are," the Comverse employee said. "We don't run off to burn tires and we think it won't happen to us, but everyone knows that anyone who leaves won't easily find work elsewhere."

In Hatzor Haglilit in the Galilee yesterday, dozens of creditors, suppliers and workers looted the local branch of failed supermarket chain Birkat Hashem, claiming it owed them money.

The scene took place only a few hundred meters from Pri Galil, the food-processing company that narrowly avoided closure when supermarket chain Hetzi Hinam agreed to buy it yesterday.

The sight of people carrying off refrigerators, air conditioners, shelves and food from the market was another sign of the deepening economic crisis.

Dozens of people from the town and neighboring Tuba-Zangaria were seen leaving the store with their hands full. By afternoon, the store had been stripped bare, including the doors and the office supplies.

Birkat Hashem has two other branches in the region and employs about 70 workers. Some said they had not been paid in two months.

"It's a feeling of helplessness," a worker at the Or Haganuz branch told Haaretz. "One day you're told the business is closed and that's that. We don't know anything."

The chain serves a largely ultra-Orthodox clientele, and most of its employees are ultra-Orthodox. It is believed to owe suppliers about NIS 10 million.

When the chain started out several years ago, its stores were known for having lower prices than the larger chains.

"We knew there were problems. Suppliers were angry and some wouldn't bring merchandise. But we didn't know how bad things were," the worker from Or Haganuz said.

'Eventually people will carry with guns'

On Tuesday, when word got out that the chain had collapsed and workers realized they were not likely to see their salaries, some came to the store to try to take what they could. The police were called, and they quickly stopped looting.

"The police told the workers they had to go to court and solve the problem via acceptable means," said a Hatzor resident who was at Tuesday's incident.

But yesterday the creditors showed up, joined by passersby, and the looting started up again.

"We haven't gotten our salaries or severance pay," said an employee who had been with the chain for five years. "What are people supposed to do? Eventually people will start going around with guns and robbing. How are we supposed to get what we deserve, and how will we make a living now?" he said.

One creditor, Asher Levy, was dismantling light fixtures from the ceiling. He said Birkat Hashem owed him NIS 150,000.

Another service provider said he was owed about NIS 30,000. "If I only get back NIS 10,000 it would be good. I owe this money," he said.

The man said he had not taken part in the looting and called it unjustified. "True, they owe me money for services and I'm angry, but it's a long way between that and looting the store like this."

The manager of the chain, Avi Sofer, also from Or Haganuz, disappeared a few days ago. Employees and suppliers who tried to reach him this week reported that he was not answering the phone and said they did not know where he was.