Netanyahu Promises Eini Cooperation

Even before he has formed a government and taken power, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has started meeting with the major players in Israel's economy. Yesterday he met with Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, and on Monday or Tuesday he will meet with the president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh.

Through these meetings, Netanyahu is hoping to gain support from Eini and Brosh for his plans to rescue Israel's economy from financial crisis and recession. He also wants to guarantee in advance that his plans will be implemented without strikes or sanctions.

Eini and Netanyahu met privately at the Dan hotel in Tel Aviv, at Netanyahu's request. At the meeting, Netanyahu did not comment on ideas coming out of the Finance Ministry regarding wage freezes in the public sector and reductions in the number of public-sector employees. But he did promise Eini that any economic rescue plan that has implications for these 700,000 workers would not be implemented without consultations with the Histadrut and other economic organizations.

The two agreed that the state should formulate an aid plan for manufacturers in outlying areas of the country that are in danger of failing, in light of the trouble at Vita Pri Galil. However, they did not discuss any specific ideas for how to go about providing such aid.

After the meeting, Netanyahu said the crisis threatens the jobs of tens of thousands of people, and cooperation with Eini would help ease the unemployment problem. He added that the crisis was not waiting for them, but was already here.

"We are starting on a new path of cooperation, as opposed to what has been going on until now," Eini said, referring to outgoing Finance Minister Roni Bar-On. He added that the meeting with Netanyahu was "the first but not the last."

As for the treasury's proposals to cut both public-sector wages and the number of public-sector employees this year, a Histadrut official said yesterday: "We know nothing about such proposals." The official refused to say what position the Histadrut would take if a proposal did arise.

"For now, there is no government and such proposals have no validity," he said. "If the Finance Ministry does present us with a plan concerning wages or the number of employees in the [public] sector, we will be willing to discuss it."

One of the Finance Ministry's ideas on how to save money on public sector wages is to delay payment of the raises awarded to public sector doctors in the the recent arbitration agreement ruling. The doctors are supposed to get a 24.2% raise on five stages, with the first coming last month. The treasury says the talks are only preliminary and no steps will be taken until a new government is formed.

Ronny Linder-Ganz contributed to this report.