No Gov't Offices Open to the Public Today

Government offices will be closed to the public today and telephone calls will remain unanswered as part of a protest against a treasury decision to privatize government workers' banking services, trade union officials said yesterday.

Nonetheless, representatives of the civil servants union began negotiating with the Finance Ministry and Civil Service Commission last night in Jerusalem in an effort to resolve the conflict and end the strike action.

As a result of the closed government offices, Israelis will be unable to receive a new passport or extend an existing one, receive a national identity card or any other official document, register property, receive a job referral from the employment bureau, or receive a mortgage approval.

"The privatization of bank services and their dispersal among the other banks will damage the improved conditions at Bank Yahav that civil servants enjoy today," said Ariel Yaakovi, head of the civil servants union.

The Finance Ministry has issued a tender for banks to bid for the right to provide civil servants with services such as low-interest loans. Until now, Yahav has had sole control of civil servants' banking services. The state and the civil servants union each controls a quarter of the bank, with Bank Hapoalim controlling the other 50 percent, while the state subsidizes the low interest rates and fees that Yahav grants civil servants.

"Over the last few years, civil servants have relinquished bonuses in exchange for the accompanying conditions' remaining unharmed," Yaakovi said.

The Finance Ministry said the tender for bank services was carried out properly, and called on the civil service union leaders to reach an agreement on the matter and refrain from causing citizens to suffer by not giving them the services they need.