Labor Tribunal Orders Immediate End to Civil Servants' Strike

Court orders workers' salaries paid within 24 hours, prohibits strike from taking place within week.

The National Labor Tribunal on Thursday morning ordered an immediate end to the civil servants' strike initiated the previous day, and ruled that the strike may not be held within the coming week. It also instructed the Histadrut labor federation to pay the salaries of the striking workers within 24 hours.

Negotiations will continue between both sides on the issue of the payment of salaries to employees of local and regional councils which are unable to pay their workers. Separate negotiations will take place over unpaid workers' pensions.

Thursday's decision was reached after Adler recommended a timeframe of seven to 10 days in which the authorities could pay the salaries.

The ruling comes after special deliberations to try to end the general workers' strike ended early Thursday with the parties unable to resolve the issues underlying the labor action.

The strike by the nation's 600,000 civil servants effectively shuttered government service to the public. The public sector and the Histadrut are protesting delays in payment of salaries to local government and religious council employees and firefighters.

At 9:30 P.M. Wednesday, at the end of a several-hour hearing, tribunal president Judge Stephen Adler summoned Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Eini and Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh in an effort to reach a consensus that would terminate the labor action.

Following the discussion, Eini said no solutions were found for the three issues discussed: the payment of salaries to municipality workers, the transfer of money deducted for pension plans, and the imposition of sanctions against municipalities that do not fulfill their obligations to employees.

The public sector strike has grounded outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport, paralyzed seaports and train lines, and closed all land borders, government offices, employment bureaus, courts, National Insurance Institute (NII) branches, the Israel Lands Administration and vehicle licensing offices.

Oil Refineries are also on strike, threatening gas shortages

Official documents such as passports are not being issued, and NII assessment committees are not meeting. Post office branches are open, but mail is not being delivered.

The local authority strike means garbage will not be collected and parking tickets will not be issued.

In anticipation of the strike, El Al rescheduled 13 flights that took off overnight Tuesday instead of during the day on Wednesday as planned. A few flights were given humanitarian exceptions by the Histadrut including a flight to Kiev carrying dozens of Ukrainian patients being treated in Israel and four incoming flights from distant locations. However, the hundreds of passengers on those flights were forced to leave their luggage at the airport as the cargo conveyor was not operating.

The union will also allow a flight bringing the Goldwasser and Regev families back from Brussels to land this morning. Last night, a flight from Amman was allowed to land as Israelis sought to return from travels via Jordan. Jordanian officials urged Israel to get the planeload of Israelis out of its territory, rather than send the Israelis to hotels in the capital.

The labor union blamed the problem on the treasury's failure to fulfill an agreement under which it was to transfer money to local governments to pay salaries by September 30. "We declared a labor dispute on July 12, but hostilities broke out in the North that day and we decided to allow the nation to recover. Local government workers are fed up," the Histadrut said Wednesday.

The Manufacturers Association petition asked the labor court to issue an injunction ordering the treasury, Interior Ministry and Union of Local Authorities to resolve the problem of withheld paychecks and social benefits within seven days, under court supervision.

The organization says each day of the strike is costing NIS 350 million, mostly by paralyzing exports and imports. The petition argues "local authority, religious council and fire service workers have the basic right to receive their pay and social benefits on time. It is their basic right to use all legal means to enforce that right; however, all public sector functioning cannot be halted for that right."

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce cited a higher figure in its petition, claiming that the first day of the strike had already cost Israel NIS 500 million.

Hirchson on Wednesday called on the Histadrut labor federation to end the strike. He said the strike was unnecessary in light of ongoing talks to resolve the problem.

Hirchson also said most local governments had reached agreements with the Histadrut and the treasury on the subject of salaries. The treasury alleges some local governments have racked up huge debts, and it is difficult to find solutions to their financial straits. The treasury also says these local authorities are improperly run and it will be impossible to transfer more money to them until their management issues are resolved.

Meanwhile Wednesday, treasury wages director Eli Cohen instructed ministry directors general and civil service employers to dock striking workers' wages. The memo orders payroll divisions to withhold wages relative to the extent of the strike: in units that operate at partial capacity, partial wages will be paid; in units that go on full strike, all wages will be withheld.