Olmert Pledge to Eini Averts Strike

The cabinet will discuss the wage crisis in the local authorities and the religious councils in its meeting this Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged in a letter he gave yesterday to Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini.

The promise paved the way to a cancelling the planned public-sector strike over the fact that the workers of 30 local authorities have not received their wages for several months.

Olmert wrote in the letter that withholding pay is an unacceptable norm, which must be condemned, and that steps should be taken against employers who do so.

He also wrote that the finance and interior ministers "had spared no effort to reduce as much as possible the number of local authorities withholding wages, as attested by the fact that the number of authorities who have not paid their workers has been significantly reduced." In January 2004, noted the PM, some 63 local authorities had been in arrears in paying wages "and in January 2007, the number is 30 local authorities, employing approximately 2,000 workers who have not received their wages."

Olmert also wrote that the government "must ensure the proper running of the municipalities, including their obligation to pay their workers and other suppliers."

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson said he pledged "to continue working toward a solution of the problem of the withholding of wages by the local authorities."

The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Raanan Dinur, stepped in (on Monday) to avert the strike after negotiations between the ministers and Histadrut leaders bogged down.

Ofer Eini said yesterday at a press conference that he threatened the strike after the National Labor Court determined that a solution to the wage crisis was a long way off.

In response to the charge that Olmert's letter provided no immediate solution, Eini said:

"I had the impression that Olmert will do everything he can to solve the problem as quickly as possible. However, we will follow the government's conduct in the near future, and we will not be silent until the the last of the workers receives their salaries and benefits."