Israeli Government Seeks Ban on Public Sector Strikes

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Israeli government is seeking to curb the power of the country’s powerful labor unions by imposing a ban on public-sector strikes, Haaretz reported on Sunday.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry would like to insert a clause in the Economic Arrangements bill that would deprive workers in vital jobs, including at the Israel Electric Corporation, the ports, the water utility and the airports, from the right to strike.

The Economic Arrangements bill is an omnibus of unrelated legislative proposals that are bundled together and attached to the budget bill every year.

Finance officials will be discussing these issues with the Histadrut Labor Federation in the course of talks on the 2013-2014 budget.

Opposition from the Histadrut has already surfaced, with one official calling it a power play. “The Histadrut won’t be cowed by threats, and won’t be deterred from fighting to protect workers in the public sector from change to their status,” the source said.

The Histadrut last week threatened a strike in protest against proposals to cut salaries, a threat which brought belligerent, “We are not afraid of strikes” declarations from several high officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Economics Affair Minister Naftali Bennett.

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said over the weekend that he hoped he could prevent a strike, “because that’s not my way.”

He said Netanyahu was trying to push Finance Minister Yair Lapid into a confrontation with the Histadrut, possibly “to burn him politically,” but said that he hoped “that Lapid won’t fall into that trap.”

In an analysis based on data furnished by the International Labor Organization, The Jerusalem Post said on Monday that Israel spends more time on strike than any European nation for which data was available, with the occasional exception of Lithuania. From 1999-2007, Israel racked up an annual average of 390 days striking per 1,000 workers. By contrast, the corresponding figure for the United States was near zero during most years.