Pri Galil Workers 'Fight for Home' With Strike

Since the start of the school year, Yael Tal, 42, of Hatzor Haglilit has avoided visiting the school her 14-year-old daughter attends.

"I have to pay school tuition, and there's no way I can do it. I don't even know how much I owe, because I'm embarrassed to go there. Just recently I took out a loan to pay for dental work for my daughter," she admitted.

Tal works on the production line of the Pri Galil processed-food company located in her northern town, and struggles to get by on NIS 3,500 a month. Still, she knows her situation could be much worse - the factory could close. And that is a possible scenario.

The firm's parent company, Vita Pri Galil, owes NIS 160 million to the banks, and while the Pri Galil factory itself is profitable, the financial burden borne by Vita could lead to the factory's closure. Vita owes farmers who supply the factory some NIS 30 million.

Said Ahikam Bar-Levy, a representative of Upper Galilee farmers: "We and the [factory] workers have identical interests. We're interested in continuing the factory's work and, for the debt to be returned to us in full."

Three offers have recently been submitted for acquiring the factory; those from food concerns Williger and Pri-Nir have been described by management as "serious."

Several days ago, however, a court-appointed trustee said the banks had not reached an agreement over the remaining debts, and therefore they oppose all bids to buy out the company.

According to the head of the workers' committee, Moti Haziza, "We're fighting for our home. Right now we're organizing a warning strike, but if the message isn't understood we won't hesitate to take more severe measures."

He added that Pri Galil "turns a very handsome profit, and there's no reason it should be taken over. The factory has come to hard times only because of its parent company, Vita."

Today the workers' committee will hold a warning strike including a demonstration outside the factory.

Fear of closure

Officials at the Histadrut labor federation said they believe the Leumi and Israel Discount banks will ask Haifa District Court to appoint a receiver for the parent company when it convenes on the matter tomorrow.

The workers said they fear that step could lead to closure of the factory closing and firing of workers.

Aviram Cohen, a bank spokesman, painted a different picture. "The bank wants to sell the factory as a living, breathing business," he said.

Reuven Ben Haim, 49, a Pri Galil employee who responsible for the factory's cooling system, explained that, "the factory's collapse will bring the collapse of Hatzor Haglilit itself."

"Pri Galil is Hatzor and Hatzor is Pri Galil. The factory's success is success for the community, and its failure is a disaster for Hatzor. The community will turn into one big poorhouse," Ben Haim said, adding that his base salary is NIS 5,000, and with the addition of overtime, amounts to about NIS 7,200.

A week ago, Ben Haim gathered his six children and told them the economic situation had grown dire.

"I told them: 'It could very well be that soon I won't be able to buy you basic things like books for school or clothing.'"