The Bottom Line / Suffer Them Gently

How could it be that under Jacob Frenkel and Michael Bruno labor relations were fine, and under Klein everything's gone wrong?

In the trendy season of "taking a hit at the governor", David Klein has had to suffer from the press even when not deserved, such as for his "worsened labor relations at the Bank of Israel." How could it be that under Jacob Frenkel and Michael Bruno labor relations were fine, and under Klein everything's gone wrong?

Under Frenkel, Bruno and their predecessors, the workers got everything they wanted. A bonus? Here you are. Automatic promotions? Certainly. Subsidized loans? Why not? Grants and gifts? Absolutely. It was all so hunky dory that the Bank of Israel won the crown for the highest wages in the economy, higher even than those at the Israel Electric Corporation and the commercial banks.

But then Klein arrived, and he didn't agree with his predecessors' way. He didn't want to speak grandly to the local authorities and the public sector on exceptional wages when his own house was not in order. One year after he took office, he tried canceling the practice where 45 percent of the bank's staff automatically get promoted each year, which translates into a 10 percent bonus, and where there's one bonus, the others follow.

Clearly it didn't seem right to pay such high raises amid many layoffs and an economy that was shrinking and suffering. But the workers didn't like the change. They burst into Klein's office, shut down the bank's operations, blasted the governor, and launched an industrial dispute that has not been resolved even today. This week Klein decided to give only 20 percent of the staff promotion - a commendable decision - but those same journalists continued to criticize the "shaky labor relations at the bank."

l Labor. Fans of reforms, liberalization, privatization and shrinking the public sector - steps that will lead the economy to growth and falling unemployment - greatly fear Labor's joining the government. A sign of things that could be in the offing should they join is now apparent from the talks with Likud over the divvying up of ministries. Labor has laid claim, among other things, to restore - especially for them - the Labor and Social Affairs portfolio.

They are applying pressure to undo the merger of the labor and industry ministries despite its being one of the most successful mergers from any point of view. There is clearly a clash of interests between dealing with social welfare and labor. Someone who deals with a plan to get welfare recipients back to work (the Wisconsin Plan) cannot be the same one who will fight to increase welfare payments to those on income support.

Encouraging a return to work and professional retraining is an economic matter unsuitable for the Welfare Ministry, which deals with those who cannot work. Furthermore, the merger got rid of the duplication of offices and saved 120 jobs. It also improved the treatment of unemployed people, because the merged ministry better knows what industry requires.

But then the leaders of Labor don't care about that. They just want another seat on the greasy pole, an "honorable portfolio," and particularly the National Insurance Institute and the Employment Service, which cannot be beaten as a source of jobs for political cronies.