Local Gov't Warning Strike Stalls Traffic

Hundreds of local authority heads and employees went on a one-day warning strike yesterday, staging demonstrations in 11 junctions across the country. They were protesting cuts to their education and welfare budgets and balancing grants over the past years. The strike was announced by the Union of Local Authorities, and organizers said further protests were planned, including demonstrating in Jerusalem and setting up a protest tent near the Knesset.

Municipal strike
Yaron Kaminsky

Meanwhile, the Histadrut labor federation said it would announce a labor dispute in the public sector tomorrow, a move that can potentially lead to a fully-fledged strike affecting the private sector as well. The announcement comes as negotiations between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry over pay rises for public servants ground to a halt.

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini pledged yesterday to do all he can to bring about an agreement "through negotiations and without unnecessary struggles." Sources within the labor federation told Haaretz that if there is no breakthrough in the talks, a strike was all but inevitable.

By law, there can be no strike until 14 days after a labor dispute is announced, giving the parties time to reach an agreement, in this case on the salaries of 750,000 public sector employees. If no agreement is reached, the strike would affect ministries, local authorities, government companies and the Israel Airport Authority.

The Histadrut is demanding a pay rise of 3.5 percent for each of the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, adding up to a nearly 11 percent rise. The treasury, represented by wages director Ilan Levin, has so far agreed to consider a pay rise of 0.5 percent for each year, adding up to up to 1.7 percent over three years.

Eini voiced support for the local authorities strike yesterday, noting that the budget deficit in local authorities could lead to pay cuts and possible even layoffs. "This is why we cannot stand by silently," Eini said.

All municipal services except the education system were halted in the local authorities yesterday, with municipal employees, local authority heads and ULA officials leaving to demonstrate across the country. The protesters blocked the Tishbi junction for a considerable amount of time, and other roads were also blocked.

The local authorities demand the treasury hand over about NIS 1 billion as balancing grants. Their officials said yesterday the treasury was failing to honor its obligations as agreed on seven months ago, following an earlier strike action by the authorities. The treasury is insisting all obligations included in the written agreement between the parties be honored.