Enough Power and Money to Shut Down the Country

Our courts and MKs are running scared of confronting executives in the public sector about their excessive salaries.

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Next month, the wages supervisor at the Finance Ministry will publish current salary levels in the public sector. Once again, we’ll all be dismayed at the exorbitant salaries paid out at the Israel Electric Corporation. The problem lies not only in the outrageous salaries paid to IEC employees, but also in their growing political clout. In the past they were feared only by MKs and cabinet ministers who wished to be reelected. Now, even the courts are intimidated.

For many years, the large monopolies (as well as municipalities and universities) paid out hugely excessive salaries. The lawlessness was insatiable, until a law was passed in 1982 authorizing the wages supervisor to demand these institutions return excessive supplements to the public kitty. Ever since, an ongoing battle has been waged between the supervisor and the public sector.

The problem is that when the supervisor catches out a municipal clerk in, say, Afula or Jaljulia who has received a small bonus beyond what is stipulated in labor agreements, he demands immediate and full repayment, and the clerk must oblige.

Occasionally, the clerk may turn to the labor courts, but his appeal is usually rejected. The individual is powerless against the court system. However, when the same supervisor demands that senior IEC officials repay irregular supplements to their salaries - amounting to thousands of shekels a month - the balance of power suddenly shifts, with a different turn of events.

On October 10, a letter was sent by Wages Supervisor Kobi Amsalem to the IEC, demanding a repayment of these irregular excesses paid to senior officials, including deputy directors and department heads whose salaries range from NIS 45,000 to NIS 68,000 a month. Most of them make more than the prime minister.

These officials responded by announcing that they would take a leave of absence, in effect shutting down operations. The labor union added that talks with the government on reforming the corporation would be put on hold. Several ministers and MKs who wanted to curry favor with IEC employees stated that Amsalem’s timing was "unfortunate." The timing is always unfortunate when one seeks to be in the good graces of these employees.

On Tuesday, the Haifa District Labor Court, headed by Judge Rami Cohen, issued its ruling. The court ruled that the wages supervisor’s decision should be suspended until the court rules on an appeal to be filed by the IEC management against this decision. Such an appeal has not even been framed, and the judge stated that the case will not be heard until March 2014 at the earliest.

Since cases such as these can take up to two years to work their way through the courts, the implication of this decision is a decisive victory for IEC employees, who will continue to receive these supplements, thumbing their noses at the rest of us. In two years, another excuse will be found to delay any decision.

In this manner, the courts contribute to the creation of massive discrimination between powerless individuals, who appear before them fearful and alone - such as that municipal employee from Jaljulia - and the powerful, established and intimidating top IEC employees, with a host of lawyers at their disposal. The court prefers to further line the already overflowing pockets of IEC employees at the expense of the empty wallets of the rest of us who pay our electricity bills.

The state comptroller addressed this very issue in his report last year, using harsh words to refer to the IEC’s unauthorized raising of its employees’ salaries and pensions.

The comptroller estimated that the unauthorized supplemental payments amounted to NIS 3.4 billion (!), and demanded that the wages supervisor act to return these amounts to the corporation. But when Amsalem tried to do his job, he encountered an aggressive union and a CEO, Eli Glickman, who does the union’s bidding, as well as cowardly cabinet ministers, populist MKs and a labor court that pursues an erroneous agenda.

Have no worries – the court will demonstrate forceful determination when that clerk from Jaljulia shows up in court.

Living in the shadow of the IEC.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz
An IEC control center. Credit: Tomer Neuberg