Government Makes Last-ditch Efforts to Avert Public Workers Strike

Histadrut says it is continuing with preparations for strike, as thousands of workers remain unpaid.

The government struggled Monday to solve the problem of wages owed to thousands of local authority workers, in a last-ditch effort to avert a public-sector strike. However, the Histadrut said it was continuing with preparations for the strike, since no solution was in sight and thousands of workers remain unpaid.

If the strike is launched tomorrow, it will encompass ministries, local authorities, government corporations, sea and air ports, railway lines, National Insurance, the Employment Service and postal services. The buses, banks and stock market will operate as usual.

Treasury and Interior Ministry officials said Monday that only 1,100 remained of several thousand workers who had not been paid for up to 18 months, or had been paid only partially. They estimated that by Monday evening that number would be down to 650.

"This problem could be solved in days, but not by tomorrow, when the Histadrut is threatening to strike," a treasury official said. Officials said weeks were required to overcome the crisis and pay all the workers.

The Histadrut, however, said that despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promise earlier this month, the government had failed to solve the problem and that there are still some 5,000 workers in 36 local authorities and 18 religious councils whose salaries would not be paid. Some of these workers - like municipal employees of Taibe - have not been paid for a year and a half.

"Olmert promised us on March 6 that he would solve the wage crisis in the local authorities within a few days," a Histadrut official said.

"Due to his promise we put off at the last moment the strike we had been planning. We gave him an extension of more than two weeks to solve the problem but he failed do so, other than making minor improvements. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the treasury and Interior Ministry keep their promises, there will still be nine local authorities whose workers have not been paid," a Histadrut official said.

If by tonight significant progress is made toward solving the wage crisis, the Histadrut will consider a symbolic strike that would not harm the public, such as closing down the customs authority and not transferring taxes to the state coffers.

Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, threatened to ask the National Labor Court to issue an injunction against the strike if it transpires that the Histadrut intends to go forward with the strike tomorrow.