Significant Progress in Late-night Talks May Halt Today's Public Sector Strike

The Histadrut labor federation has declared a general public-sector strike throughout the country effective 6 A.M. today. The indefinite strike is to protest unpaid wages to 3,700 municipal workers. The state prosecution asked the National Labor Court to issue an injunction against the action.

A hearing on the planned strike was scheduled for late last night. The state attorney maintains that the strike is unjustified because considerable progress had been made in negotiations to resolve the crisis.

The parties have reached a basic understanding on three issues: The Histadrut is to transfer millions of shekels to municipalities whose situation is gravest in terms of delayed wages. Dinour presented the Histadrut with papers proving that the government has transferred funds for the payment of delayed wages. In addition, the government promised to set up committees to supervise over any municipality that would withhold funds from a quarter of its employees in the future.

The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, and Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini held talks late last night to try to reach a compromise to cancel the strike. In their meeting, they examined the possibility of forming a Histadrut fund that would supervise the transfer of delayed wages.

Earlier in the evening, Eini announced the strike during a press conference at his office. "We will go on striking until each and every one of the 3,700 employees receives the wages he is due in his bank account," he said. Eini expressed regret over the "suffering" the public will experience because of the strike.

The treasury claims that the number of municipal workers whose wages have been withheld is only 600, and that the problem can be resolved within several days. The government's figures pertain to the NIS 260 million transferred to local authorities over the past two months. The Histadrut's grievances cover 3,700 workers whose salaries have not yet landed in their bank accounts.

"When the Histadrut lifted the threat of a general strike three weeks ago, I was approached by a municipal employee who told me I had let him down," Eini said. "I replied that the prime minister promised me the wages would be given within a few days. We waited patiently for three weeks, to no avail. We declared a strike so people would have food on their tables for Passover." Eini concluded by saying that the strike would be canceled if all the workers received their pay by morning.

The general secretary of the Histadrut's professional workers branch, Tzachi Tabakman, said the labor federation had made an effort to minimize the inconvenience to the public as a result of the strike.

Tabakman said the strike would affect local authorities in all departments with the exception of special education. In addition, all government ministries with the exception of the Defense Ministry will be closed to the public, as will the National Insurance Service, the Employment Service, the Israel Lands Administration, the vehicle licensing office, and the land registration office.

Bank of Israel employees will impose sanctions but will continue refilling ATMs with cash. Health and security services, as well as banks and the stock exchange will operate as usual. There will be no train service, nor will planes depart or arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Sea ports will also be shut down.

A senior Histadrut official, however, told Haaretz that all flights from England will be allowed to land at Ben-Gurion for Saturday's Euro 2008 soccer qualifier. Eini said he did not want to spoil the fun, and also Israel's chance of advancing, by forcing the game to be called off.

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson said in response that "all local authority employees, as the prime minister promised, will receive their wages by Passover. I see no reason to hold the economy hostage."