Port Workers to Be Offered Sweeteners in Privatization

Workers at the nation's ports will be offered 10 percent of the state's sale of shares in the ports at a hefty 30 percent discount, according to the Finance Ministry's latest privatization plans.

The treasury has drawn up the plan's principal points, which include selling 49 percent of the ports to the public - in two stages several months apart - which means the port workers would be offered a total 4.9 percent of the port shares at a discount.

The plan was submitted to the workers for their response some 10 days ago. The treasury has expressed the urgency in privatizing the ports, which are currently all state-owned. According to the plan, Haifa and Ashdod ports would be split into two separate government companies, to encourage competition between them. The Ports Authority would be replaced by a ports corporation, still state-owned but with less say over the ports' management.

The treasury hopes that by July 1 of this year, the assets, activities and workers will already be transferred to the new port companies.

The port workers have expressed their opposition to moves to privatize the ports, taking the protest to strike action, which has prompted the government to offer sweeteners, in the form of grants of NIS 15,000-20,000 for each of the 2,400 port workers to help them buy the offered shares. This is in addition to the 30 percent discount on the offered price.

Port workers appeared prominently in the treasury's report on excessive pay in the public sector, which was released last week. The report, which covered 2002, showed that 10 of the highest paid staffers at the ports were work managers on salaries of between NIS 51,000-66,000 a month. One seaman was paid NIS 51,000 a month, the report revealed.

In addition, workers at the Ports Authority also featured in the report, with authority workers earning NIS 22,000-48,000 a month.