Last-Chance Meeting Before Major Strike Set

YERUSHALAYIM -
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (R) seen with Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn during a press conference on December 9, 2015. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon (R.) seen with Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn during a press conference on Dec. 9. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government and officials of the Histadrut labor union will give it one more chance, after a meeting between the two sides ended in a deadlock Sunday. Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn has advised heads of the individual unions that make up the organization to prepare for a major strike later this week, as the union declared that it will settle for nothing less than an 11% pay increase across the board for all public service workers.

However, a strike appears to be more likely than ever. Speaking Sunday night, a senior Treasury official said that “as far as we are concerned the Histadrut can call a strike. We do not intend to break the budget and go beyond differential pay raises for workers earning under the average state salary. It’s the best we can do and for now it will have to be good enough.”

In response, Nissenkorn said that the official was being “very irresponsible. We do not intend to back down and we will ensure that Israeli workers get what is coming to them.” Speaking on Israel Radio Monday morning, Nissenkorn said that “it appears we will have no choice but to strike.”

The planned strike would, if it comes to pass, paralyze the economy. Among those who would walk off the job are teachers, government clerks, workers at Ben Gurion Airport, municipal employees, trash collectors, nurses and many others.

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, or ending the phenomenon of contract workers who are denied their rightful pension and social benefits, or 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 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 whose salaries were below the average salaries in the Israeli economy, but Nissenkorn has 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 some 40% of government workers who earn less than the national average of NIS 9,611 per month.