Chance of National Strike Starting Wednesday Morning

YERUSHALAYIM -
A plane takes off from Ben Gurion International Airport. Photo by Moshe Shai/FLASH90
A plane takes off from Ben Gurion International Airport. Will they be flying Wednesday? (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

On the eve of a major strike that, if it comes to pass will shut down nearly all government services, and many private ones, the Finance Ministry has reportedly offered the Histadrut an across-the-board 7% pay raise for all workers – but it’s unlikely to be enough to assuage the union’s demands.

Nevertheless, it is going to have to be enough, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon said Tuesday. “The Histadrut is not getting a 10% pay raise. We are prepared to give them a 3% to 7% pay raise, and that would be over five years.” The money would not be used to give raises to all workers; it is earmarked for those earning below the national average – the workers that Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn has said the union is going to bat for. The Histadrut will not allow the continued trampling of workers’ rights,” Nissenkorn said at a mass protest Monday. “The government is trying to pit workers against each other. We will not allow this. This strike is not an end unto itself, but the only way we can get attention for the plight of workers who cannot make ends meet. The state must take care of the weak and the middle class.”

While both sides plan to continue negotiating throughout the night in the hope that a resolution can be found, the Airports Authority has informed foreign carriers that a strike is a distinct possibility, and as a result the airport is stepping up the rate of incoming and outgoing flights – and intends to operate overnight, until 6 a.m.Wednesday, when the strike is supposed to begin. Aside from workers at Ben Gurion Airport, employees who would walk off the job include: teachers, nurses, health clinic workers, government clerks, municipal employees, and trash collectors.

El Al moved up 18 flights to New York and Europe scheduled for Wednesday morning by as much as 4 hours.

Business leaders estimate direct economic damage at about 300 million shekels ($77 million) a day while the government sees total damage at 1 billion to 3 billion shekels daily.

Israel’s economy grew slower than expected in the first half of 2015 before posting an annualized 2.5 percent growth rate in the third quarter.

The government on Tuesday went to court seeking a restraining order against the union representing teachers, saying it had recently signed a deal for its own pay raises – a deal in which they promised not to strike for the period of the contract. Union officials have said that the current strike “doesn’t count,” because they are striking for other workers, not themselves.

Among the reasons for the strike, said Nissenkorn, was the low level of wages among Israeli workers as a whole. “There are a million public sector workers and three million private sector workers in Israel,” Nissenkorn said at a press conference last week. “A quarter of them earn the minimum wage, and half of them are so underpaid that they do not qualify to pay taxes. This is not a strike for striking’s sake, but a social effort to raise the standard of living for Israeli workers. We have a responsibility to make sure that all workers are taken care of.”

Nissenkorn said that the organization has been trying to get the attention of the government for the past year and a half, but to no avail. “They have ignored all our issues, whether it is a raise in the minimum wage, ending the phenomenon of contract workers who are denied their rightful pension and social benefits, the pension crisis in which many workers are unlikely to get any money when they retire, and so on. We have to solve these problems for once and for all, and if we cannot do it by negotiations, we have no choice but to strike.”

In response, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon said that the government had agreed to raise the salaries of workers who earn less than the Israeli average, but Nissenkorn had rejected this, demanding the full salary increase for all workers – as well as full-time jobs with benefits for all workers employed under contract or via employment agencies, who are not eligible for the benefits that come with a government job. The government proposal would affect the approximately 40% of government workers who earn less than the national average of NIS 9,611 per month.