Ben Gurion Airport Strike Averted

YERUSHALAYIM -
An Israeli traveler waits at the deserted check-in counters in the departure hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport during an airline workers strike. (Flash90)
An Israeli traveler waits at the deserted check-in counters in the departure hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport during an airline workers strike. (Flash90)

A strike that would have shut down Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning and threatened to ruin the plans of large numbers of Lag BaOmer celebrants from outside Israel was averted on Monday evening as the Finance Ministry and El Al Airlines reached an agreement.

The Ministry agreed to bear most of the burden of airline security costs — from 70% to 97.5% of the total — and El Al in return agreed to accept the increased competition “Open Skies” will bring from European carriers.

El Al, which currently pays 130 million shekels in security outlays each year, will only have to spend about 12.5 million, according to Treasury figures. Airline executives argued that the special security concerns in Israel placed an unfair burden on them in trying to hold their own in the international market.

The three Israeli airlines, El, Arkia and Israir, also agreed to unspecified streamlining measures which will make them more competitive.

Shortly after the agreement was reached, the Histadrut said it was calling off the strike.

“At the end of the crisis, the government composed itself and understood that the requests of the workers to allow the companies to survive and receive fair conditions in competition is in the national interest,” Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said. “It’s a shame it had to come to a strike and protests and striking fear into thousands of families in order to reach this conclusion, which we could have reached in practical negotiations.

“It’s a pity we had to strike, to rally and to put thousands of families through real anxiety to achieve a deal we could have reached through negotiation,” he said.

News of the settlement broke just hour and a half before the National Labor Court was set to rule on whether the strike, and the Histadrut’s order to shut down the airport starting on Tuesday at 5:00 a.m., could proceed, or whether to issue an injunction.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Monday denounced the strike, saying it was “unnecessary from the beginning and it is still necessary now.”

“Open Skies is a done deal. This is a good and appropriate agreement for the citizens of Israel, Israel’s economy and Israel’s tourism,” he said, adding, “the agreement will liberalize the aviation market in Israel, introducing more competition over the course of five years.”

Opposition Leader Shelly Yacimovich took the side of the airlines, saying it was wrong to set Israeli companies against international competition “with their hands cuffed.”

El Al’s Eliezer Shakedi said that while the company respected the Israeli government’s decision to ratify the Open Skies arrangement, it demanded that it address issues that “will allow fair and equal competition, chief among them the state’s full participation in the security expenditures of Israeli airlines.”

The Histadrut had made exceptions in the strike actions against the Israeli companies. It  approved two El Al flights Monday for humanitarian reasons, one from Paris carrying the bodies of a rabbi and the president of the deaf association for burial in Israel, and another from Berlin carrying employees of a pharmaceutical company so they could return to work manufacturing medication. On Sunday, three other exceptions were allowed.