Treasury May Agree to Grant Public Sector Raises

The Histadrut Labor Federation said yesterday it would delay a potential general public sector strike that could have started as early as the end of this week.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini met yesterday and agreed to hold serious talks over raising the salaries of public-sector workers in order to avert a strike.

Both Bar-On and Eini said the meeting went well and was held in a friendly atmosphere.

The Histadrut had threatened to stage a strike later this week or early next week that would have involved government ministries, local authorities, Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israel Railways, the Government Employment Service, and other state-run agencies.

The threat of a general strike has now been delayed for at least 10 days.

Trade union chiefs, who participated in the meeting with Bar-On, together with the Histadrut, represent 700,000 public-sector workers.

Bar-On did not completely reject the Histadrut's demands for raises during yesterday's meeting. His position opposes that of Finance Ministry Wages Director Eli Cohen, who till now has rejected any increase to workers' salaries.

The Histadrut is demanding an over-10 percent raise, which Finance Ministry officials say will cost the state over NIS 10 billion a year.

Eini and Bar-On concluded that the Histadrut head and union leaders will hold intensive negotiations with Cohen starting Sunday over a uniform salary rise for the entire public sector. If after a week the talks fail to progress, Bar-On and Eini will meet again. The Histadrut said that if there is no progress following that meeting, the labor federation will act as it sees fit, including declaring a strike.

The Histadrut is also in contact with the heads of 10 major trade unions on non-wage related issues for which they are set to sign detailed agreements.

Eini attacked Cohen earlier this week, saying that "whoever gives a 0 percent wage increase is not willing to conduct negotiations in practice."

"We do not want strikes, and I call on the cabinet not to drag us into [striking] and save the economy serious damage," Eini added.