Off Tov Owner Assaulted for Saying Firm Is Dead Duck

Workers at Off Tov in Ramat Ishay yesterday attacked one of their bosses after he stated that the poultry processing plant and slaughterhouse was doomed.

The workers tried to stop Shuki Ogen, CEO of the Emek Mifalim Group, from leaving the premises after a meeting with labor representatives. At the meeting, Ogen told the workers' representatives that the plant can't be saved. The only chance of survival is for an investor to buy the company, Ogen said.

Hearing that, after the meeting the workers called Ogen a thief, threw rocks at his car and thumped it as he drove off.

A photographer for the press, Hagai Aharon of Ynet, was also injured during the incident when the plant's gate closed on him. He was evacuated to Haemek hospital in Afula, in moderately serious condition. As of last night he was in surgery, suffering damage to a lung, broken ribs and one arm, the hospital said.

Workers have locked themselves inside the plant premises since Sunday, protesting the struggling company's imminent closure.

Yesterday they continued their vigil. The production line closed Sunday, and immediately afterward, the company's 200 employees protested the decision by demonstrating outside the factory, burning tires and freeing chickens from their cages.

Benny Sha'ar, one of the workers at Off Tov, said yesterday that the workers would be spending the night in the plant. "We won't move until a solution is found. Without work, we have no life," he said.

Today the workers will be fasting, they say, in protest at their plight. They also intend to sit on cardboard boxes or on mattresses on the floor, and to ceremoniously tear their clothes - a symbol of mourning - following management's decision to "shut down the slaughterhouse and fire 200 workers."

"The custom on Purim is to hold a banquet," said Motti Sa'ar, chairman of the Off Tov union. "We on the other hand will be holding a fast, and tear our clothes to mourn the loss of our livelihood, which is the most important thing to us, and [in mourning of] the disaster that has befallen us and our families."

Yesterday the workers again demonstrated at the entrance to the Off Tov plant, between Tivon and Migdal Haemek.

"We didn't leave the meeting [with Ogen] feeling encouraged," Sa'ar says. "It seems the plant's management has given up. It can't save the company ... We will continue to stay at the plant and demonstrate until a solution is found for us. The 200 workers here have nowhere else to go."

Off Tov is owned by an association of 14 kibbutzim and moshavim in Jezreel Valley - Emek Mifalim. While the workers protest, in fact efforts are being made to keep Off Tov up and running.

If anything, union representatives are starting to feel optimistic, says Leon Peretz, regional manager for the northern Jezreel area at the Histadrut labor federation. Yesterday representatives of the Histadrut, Off Tov management and workers met with a potential investor, who would keep the company a going concern.

The parties decline at this stage to identify the potential investor.

"The meeting was a good one," Peretz said. "We even began to go into detail, and hope something will come of it. Management is changing direction and showing that it does want to get in touch with an investor and keep the company running."

The nameless potential investor isn't the only one sniffing at the poultry processing plant, Peretz adds. One is Rami Levy, one of the owners of the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain, which is maneuvering to buy another company famously in trouble - Vita Pri Hagalil of nearby Hatzor Glilit. Levy has even visited the Off Tov premises. "We can hope for a happy ending, as is happening at Pri Hagalil," Peretz concludes.