Staff at Israel Military Industries Up Ante as Management Fails to Pay June Wages

At a meeting yesterday Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut professional union division, empowered the IMI workers to 'take every protest action within their authority'.

Workers at the troubled defense firm Israel Military Industries are considering esclating their industrial action to protest the second month of delayed pay. As of yesterday, 2,900 staffers at the state-owned IMI had not received their June salaries, and 1,200 retirees had not received their company pensions.

While the retirees are expected to file a suit at the Tel Aviv Labor Court over not receiving their pensions, the workers' committee has yet to decide on what further action to take. At a meeting yesterday between the workers' representatives and Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut professional union division, Eini empowered the IMI workers to "take every protest action within their authority against the company management and against the finance and defense ministries, in the way they have dealt with this crisis at IMI."

In protest, the IMI workers together with staffers at Ashot Ashkelon, a subsidiary of IMI sold 10 days ago to a consortium including Ronen Tubkol and former MK Avraham Burg, demonstrated at the site of the mobile homes being set up in Nitzanim to house the Gaza Strip residents after the disengagement. Ashot manufactures "build-to-print" and "build-to-spec" gear-based and drive-train products for aerospace and defense sectors, including sintered tungsten.

The protesters also rallied against the low price that the company got for Ashot Ashkelon - NIS 17 million. The workers claim that the subsidiary is worth closer to NIS 63 million. Chairman of the Ashot Ashkelon workers committee, Peretz Mitzrafi, told the demonstrators that they would scuttle the deal if no agreement is reached with them over pay and conditions under the new, private management.

Chairman of the Histadrut's Ashkelon region, Rami Guetta, said that the demonstration was held by the mobile homes "because the [IMI workers] could see how the government worries over the Gaza evacuees, but can't seem to worry over the Ashot Ashkelon workers."

The IMI management said that as long as the staffers withhold their support for the latest, treasury-backed recovery plan for the company, then the government will not provide the NIS 350 million necessary to pay off suppliers and clear debts. The treasury has conditioned the NIS 350 million injection on a shake-up at the company, including laying off 500 workers and cutting NIS 50 million off the remainders' wages.

In a continued show of protest, IMI workers yesterday stopped manufacturing light arms for export and begun obstructing the transfer of knowhow to technical clients of the company in the U.S., France and Britain.