Union, Treasury in Late Night Talks to Avoid Strike

Late-night negotiations to stop a widespread strike will fail, and the Histadrut labor federation will initiate a widespread public-sector strike beginning this morning, officials in the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut told Haaretz yesterday evening.

At press time, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini was still meeting in Tel Aviv with Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson and Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On, in an attempt to abort the major strike today over withheld wages of workers in some local authorities.

The strike was set to include the cancellation of outgoing flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the paralysis of the ports and all train lines, and the closing of land borders. Government offices, employment bureaus, courts, National Insurance Institute branches, the Israel Lands Administration and the vehicle licensing office will not receive the public nor answer phones. The Israel Electric Corporation operators will not work, no fuel will be delivered to gas stations, and local authorities will not be operational.

Official documents like passports will not be issued, and functioning assessment committees at the National Insurance Institute will not meet. No mail will be delivered.

If the strike does not end within two days, a shortage of gas may ensue, since the strike includes the fuel depot at Pi-Gelilot.

The local authority strike means that garbage will not be collected and parking tickets will not be issued.

The chief of the Histadrut trade unions department, Tsahi Tabakman, said yesterday the strike would not at this point include the health system (health maintenance organizations, hospitals, well-baby clinics or Magen David Adom), special education, the defense industries, the Egged and Dan bus lines, the Broadcasting Authority, day-care centers, residential schools and the Israel National Roads Company. All banks will operate as usual, except the Bank of Israel, which will be closed.

The reason for the strike is the partial or total withholding of salaries of about 12,000 workers in dozens of local authorities, and the non-transfer of money deducted for pension plans and educational training funds for 40,000 workers in local authorities.

"All we want is for the local authorities to pay all the salaries coming to the workers and transfer the money to the workers funds as should be done in a proper country," Eini said yesterday. "It should be obvious, but this situation has gone on for two years and more. On July 12 the Histadrut declared a labor dispute to persuade the government to start acting on the matter. We had a great deal of patience, but nothing happened. I demand, as a condition to avoid the strike, the creation of a plan for full payment of the salaries to the

workers and for sanctions against mayors and the heads of local councils who do not pay salaries and social benefits. We don't want to strike, and the moment our demands are met, the dispute will end.

In a veiled reference to the Accountant General, Yaron Zelekha, Eini said, "it has been more than a month since the Finance Ministry has abstained from transfering funds to the local authorities so they can pay their salaries and benefits to workers, but one official is preventing the transfer of the money."

In response, Zelekha said, "my job is to protect the public coffers and ensure that money will be spent from it according to the law and rules of proper administration. However I understand the local authority workers."

Sources in the treasury said yesterday the problem of non-payment of salaries and benefits was so serious because the banks were not prepared to extend credit to some of the local authorities with large deficits for fear they would not be able to repay the money.

Or Kashti adds: If the strike takes place, parents will replace kindergarten assistants, the Education Ministry decided with the Union of Local Authorities last night. Other educational institutions will be operating normally, with teachers filling in for administrative staff if needed.