Treasury Freezes Israel Broadcasting Authority Reforms

The labor sanctions at the Israel Broadcasting Authority have sparked sharp reactions from the Ministry of Finance and the IBA management. On Wednesday the treasury's deputy supervisor of wages, Barak Strouseberg, sent a sharply worded letter to the head of the civil service employees union, Ariel Yaakobi, and the chairman of the Journalists Aaociation in Jerusalem, Ahia (Hika) Haike Ginossar. In the letter Strouseberg announced his refusal to extend the negotiations for a new contract and, in effect, an end to the negotiations over the reform of the state broadcasting body. The IBA, meanwhile, at the behest of director general Mordechai Shklar, plans to ask the Labor Court on Sunday to issue an injunction against the sanctions.

The planned reforms have been delayed by various recent developments. A month ago IBA chairman Moshe Gavish, who has led the reform since his appointment in 2007, announced his resignation. A week later, his deputy, Dorit Inbar, and IBA board member Doron Tsabari joined him. Inbar said she saw no hope for the reform's implementation, adding that the IBA management did not have people who could spearhead the reform.

A multi-stage schedule for the reform, with milestones for each stage, was in the works. For example, the new labor agreements were to be signed three months after the completion of new retirement agreements, which were signed in late March. The labor contract is still not completed, prompting Strouseberg's announcement this week.

"The union is stiffening its position," he wrote in the letter. "There appears to be no genuine willingness on their part to complete the negotiations and sign new labor agreements." The letter cited objections to the reforms raised by the union: "Radio technicians object to extending their workday beyond five and a half hours, the journalists and production workers are unwilling to have their work hours monitored and the administrative workers are making the continuation of negotiations contingent on their receiving salary supplements."

Senior media figures said on Wednesday that the letter was probably meant to advance the negotiations by urging the unions to accept concessions and sign an agreement.

"The treasury fears that the Histadrut labor federation will take these agreements and use them in other places," an IBA official explained. "We are arguing, for example, over the number of hours in the workweek, and this can have a ripple effect on other sectors, as the treasury knows."

"This is bad news, but is a treasury clerk going to be the one to decide the fate of public broadcasting" Ginossar said in a response. "It's a despicable and false letter because in no way have we reached a dead end. The treasury is the one that canceled meetings using assorted pretexts, while those that did take place were conducted in a positive atmosphere," Ginossar said.

"In recent months, since agreement on the outline of the reform was reached, the union has reached many agreements with the Finance Ministry and with the IBA management," Yaakobi said. "There are a few remaining disagreements that can be resolved in negotiations where there is good will. The problem that has surfaced was been created solely by the deputy supervisor of salaries, who is not acting in good faith and responsibly." Shklar issued the following response: "Mr. Strouseberg's letter in its current timing may affect the effort to promote the shared goal of all of us. It is not clear to me what the fuss is about, especially given the progress in the negotiations over the last weeks with several sectors involved in them."

In a letter sent on Wednesday to members of the joint labor committee Shklar said that employees participating in sanctions will not be paid for the duration of the sanctions. For over a week administrative and academic-grade employees have been conducting sanctions, demanding that their terms of employment be brought into line with other state employees and IBA workers. Teleprompters were not operated during newscasts and mobile broadcast units were not dispatched. The sanctions threatened news broadcasts last weekend, and workers warned that broadcasts of the Mabat nightly news show would be halted if the sanctions continued.