Netanyahu Endorses Minimum Wage Increase

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s Ministry of Finance Director of Wages Kobi Amsalem wouldn’t sign the minimum wage increase. (Flash 90)
Israel’s Ministry of Finance Director of Wages Kobi Amsalem wouldn’t sign the minimum wage increase. (Flash 90)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stepped into negotiations between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut on Sunday with a directive to raise the minimum wage to 5,000 shekels a month.

A previous announcement by Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn proclaiming a wage victory was apparently premature, as Finance officials had yet to sign the agreement, even after Netanyahu’s intervention on Sunday. The initial agreement had been reached just hours after the firing of Minister of Finance Yair Lapid. Minister of Finance Director of Wages Kobi Amsalem refused to sign the agreement at that time, due to unresolved issues.

In his capacity as acting Finance Minister, Netanyahu said that “I have instructed the Finance Ministry to allow a government-wide expansion of the minimum wage to NIS 5,000.”

Senior ministry officials were adamant in resisting the accord, branding it an underhanded attempt by Nissenkorn to bypass the usual legislative procedure. The question of whether a transition government can raise the minimum wage through an executive order is awaiting a ruling by the Attorney General, according to Globes.

Netanyahu’s action once again underscores the importance attached to the cost of living as a campaign issue. After early elections were called Netanyahu reversed his opposition to a proposal to eliminate VAT from basic food products.

“I hope that this is not an election stunt,” remarked Amir Peretz (Movement), who had first suggested that food VAT should be dropped.

Likud MKs had a mixed response.

MK Gila Gamliel blamed the coalition partners. “We couldn’t really govern because we had few mandates,” she told Ynet. “In the previous government we’ve done nice things, but in the last coalition we couldn’t keep the social portfolios. The issue of the cost of living was in the hands of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.”

Former deputy foreign minister Likud MK Danny Danon was somewhat more blunt as he spread the blame, saying “the Likud forgot about the social issue.”

“We have to tell the voters the truth. We left the social portfolios in the hands of an apathetic finance minister. We at the Likud forgot about social sensibilities.”

By contrast, Chairman of the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, Likud MK Haim Katz, stoutly defended his party’s record: “In the past five and a half years the committee passed 179 social laws and touched upon countless economic and social issues.”

“We did a lot that wasn’t covered by the media. The Iranian bomb is more interesting, after all. There are four times as many MRI scanners in Israel, children get free dental treatments. All of that wasn’t covered. I expect Likud to take back the social portfolios: The health portfolio, the welfare portfolio, the economy portfolio. It’s time to reach people. Not talk on the macro level, but reach them on the micro level.”