Taking Stock / Robbery in the Guise of Efficiency

On Sunday, the press reported that Bezeq's board of directors approved an efficiency plan the previous Thursday. The plan calls for hundreds of people to take early retirement, for which the phone company will book about NIS 1 billion in charges.

The announcement about the massive charge for the retirees arrived after an exquisitely timed campaign of leaks about "efficiency" and voluntary retirement schemes. Over the years, we have become inured to seeing dismissals at Bezeq accompanied by charges amounting to billions of shekels. And after management stupefied the nation with its blitz of weird and wonderful announcements, it's no wonder that the outrage taking shape under our noses is passing by unnoticed.

Bowing and scraping

Behind the smokescreen of announcements about "efficiency" drives at the phone company lies extortion by the company's workers - sponsored by the new chief executive, Amnon Dick, and the company's board, for whom bowing and scraping before the workers is a habit.

Why does Bezeq need to set aside NIS 1 billion to cover its retirement program? Isn't it enough that over the last seven years, the company has provisioned NIS 2.7 billion for two large-scale retirement schemes, under former CEOs Ami Erel and Ilan Biran? The last retirement scheme, approved three years ago, was presented as the final one. It scheduled the voluntary retirement of 1,770 people through 2008. So where did that extra NIS 1 billion provision come from? It turns out that extortion by Bezeq workers knows no limits. And the willingness of the company, its management and its board to comply is as great as ever.

Behind that scandalous NIS 1 billion charge lurk three separate outrages.

Cost-benefit calculations?

There is a huge question that Bezeq has failed to address. Why is it giving its people such lavish pensions, and why from age 48? In the past, the company pointed to the economic rationale for firing its most expensive workers (who had originated in the Communications Ministry). But the current voluntary retirement plan expands the dismissals to cheaper workers too, whose early retirement is of dubious economic merit. Where are the economic analyses proving the value of paying such expensive pensions?

The most astonishing thing is that nobody seems to care that Bezeq decided to give its bloated workers NIS 1 billion so that they can retire early. Not the board, not the finance minister, not the communications minister and certainly not any of our elected representatives. Israel is filthy rich, clearly, and brimming with budget surpluses, so it is only natural that we gladly fork over NIS 1 billion so that Bezeq workers can go home early.

A Bezeq spokesman commented that no agreement with the workers has been signed yet. The board was presented with principles of an agreement, and the board empowered management to pursue the negotiations and wrap up an agreement. The basis for the agreement taking shape is the agreement dating from 2000. But this time, the workers' retirements would be accelerated, and a larger number of them would retire than originally stipulated. The spokesperson said that the management trend is clear: It is of the utmost importance to adjust spending to revenues from land-line telephony, which has been declining for years.

Commenting on the cost of the retirement scheme, the spokesperson said that Bezeq carried out several checks and found that other institutions had instituted retirement agreements of similar scope.