Business Official: Quarter of Northern Firms 'Can Be Written Off as Bankrupt'

At least one-quarter of all businesses in the North "can be written off as bankrupt," Oded Feller, the president of the Chamber of Commerce for Haifa and the North, charged yesterday.

He also charged that a compensation plan agreed on two weeks ago by the government, Histadrut labor federation and Coordinating Bureau of Economic Organizations does not meet the needs of small businesses. The bureau represents large employers, not small ones.

"For factories, the government is financing wage payments for employees who were absent from work," Feller said. "But business owners whose workers showed up for work, but were left with an empty till due to the war and subsequent lack of customers, were left without any arrangement that covers the damages of lost income, ongoing fixed expenses, and a decline in the value of their inventory."

"The government is acting as if this is Haifa and the North's war, not that of the country as a whole," Feller charged.

The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce will host a conference in Tel Aviv tomorrow to kick off a battle for a new compensation agreement that would be of more help to small businesses.

The Forum of Chief Financial Officers of Israel's leading companies also charged yesterday that the compensation agreement is flawed, and said it must be changed when a new agreement for August is considered. The previous agreement only covered July.

Forum chair Noga Keinan said that by paying full salaries to workers who skipped work, while not giving those who showed up any extra benefits, the agreement delivers "bad education," and inculcates "inappropriate norms of behavior."

She also slammed the fact that companies located within nine kilometers of the Lebanese border are being compensated at a higher rate than those farther away that have also suffered rocket strikes. A group of northern businessmen is planning to petition the High Court of Justice against this distinction.

Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai said yesterday he plans to submit a proposal to the government that would reduce, but not eliminate, such a distinction. Under his plan, businesses located more than nine kilometers from the border would receive compensation worth at least 70 percent of the difference between their income during the war and during the same period last year. Yishai agreed that the current regulations do not provide a solution for small and medium-sized businesses, "and it is inappropriate for those businesses to remain without compensation," he said.