IEC Employees Say They Won't Strike if Gov't Suspends Reform

Employees at the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) will not strike or disrupt supply of electricity to the public, said IEC employees union Chairman Miko Tzarfati, and the union expects the government to uphold the court's decision and suspend the legislation.

But Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson said yesterday that the government must implement electricity reforms. "IEC's debt of billions of shekels requires implementation of a reform." He added that "the citizens of Israel cannot be held hostage to the employees of the company. The government will not surrender to this or that ultimatum." He added that the government is likely to reach an agreement with IEC employees on the preservation of their rights in the framework of the reform within the next few months.

Kobi Haber, the budgets director in the Finance Ministry, said treasury officials had been conducting long-standing talks with union leaders and have made no headway.

The proposed legislation is more complicated than the treasury had originally envisioned, Haber said, because of the involvement of the Infrastructures Minister, who had originally insisted on change at the company through negotiation with the workers.

No one means to impair the workers' rights, Haber said. "But if we don't do this reform, the price of power will go up a lot more. The price of electricity has been kept artificially low. It will have to rise."

Government Companies Authority head Eyal Gabbai insisted that the IEC is not being "privatized", it is being restructured. "The electricity sector is on the brink of catastrophe. It cannot continue the way it is," Gabbay said. He said the workers know their rights would not be impaired and that they simply do not want to lose their monopolistic power over providing electricity in Israel.