Public Sector Strike Still Looms as Compromise Talks Fail

The Histadrut labor federation is threatening to launch a strike on Tuesday after failure to reach a new wage pact for public-sector employees.

The Histadrut labor federation is still threatening to launch a strike on Tuesday of its public-sector employees. The news comes after Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini, who met on Friday, were unable to come to an agreement on a new wage pact for public-sector employees.

Despite the deadlock, Ilan Levin, the Finance Ministry's wages director, and Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut's trade unions division, will continue to try to iron out the differences over the next two days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who maintains good relations with Eini, may also intervene in an attempt to head off the strike.

Ofer Eini Oct. 29, 2010 (Emil Salman)
Emil Salman

At the moment, the gap between the bargaining positions is substantial. The Finance Ministry is offering a 0.5 percent salary hike for the 750,000 public-sector employees each year for three years, for a total increase of 1.5 percent. The Histadrut for its part is demanding a 3.5 percent hike every year for three years, amounting to a total increase of 10.5 percent.

The sense among the workers' committees is that, with a looming threat of a strike, the Finance Ministry will soften its stance and offer the workers more, as has happened in the past.

The two sides have already agreed that public-sector working mothers with children up to 5 years old would receive a monthly wage hike of NIS 300. It had also been agreed that amounts set aside for certain pension funds would be increased from 17.5 percent of salaries to 19 or 19.5 percent.

"We are doing everything to avoid a strike and come to an agreement," Nissenkorn said after holding a meeting with representatives of 15 professional unions and a number of other workers' committees, who all gave the Histadrut a green light to push for higher public-sector salaries.

If the strike does happen, it is expected to include workers from government ministries, local authorities, religious and regional councils, government corporations and the healthcare system (which will operate as it normally would during Shabbat ), as well as those who work for the courts, Na'amat day care centers, Ben-Gurion International Airport, the seaports, the income tax authorities, the postal company, Israel Lands Administration, university administrations, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency. Trains would not run, but buses would operate as usual.

Some teachers, who are members of the Israel Teachers Union, could also launch a short strike in support of the Histadrut. Members of the secondary school teachers' union would report to work as usual.