It’s now “after the chagim,” and as promised, Egged bus company workers will walk off the job in two weeks unless the Finance and Transportation ministries come up with the subsidies that were promised to the company, Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn said on Tuesday.
“Over the years, and especially in recent months, the government has been trying to cut down Egged’s stature as a top transportation company, and they are harming not only the standing of drivers and employees, but of ordinary Israelis,” said Nissenkorn. “Instead of investing in public transportation, the state is planning to cancel subsidies that help pay for transportation for the poorest Israelis. The ministries have the power to put an end to this crisis.”
The reason for the strike is complicated and involves not just workers’ rights, but government assistance to Egged. The bus company claims that without a renewal of the government subsidy to the firm – with the former agreement expiring 10 months ago – the company may not be able to pay salaries of drivers as soon as this month.
According to the Finance Ministry, the fault lies completely with Egged. The company has been losing lines over the past two decades, as competing firms outbid Egged for lines in many cities, such as Modiin, Raanana, Beitar Illit, and other places. Currently, Egged controls 45 percent of Israel’s bus traffic, down by more than a third over the past 20 years, but the company has not cut its staff by that amount. According to the ministry, Egged has refused to sign the pro-rated subsidy agreement offered it, demanding more per passenger than it had been receiving previously.
The strike had originally been set to begin on the day after Yom Kippur; the new strike date has been set for Nov. 7. Consumer groups took credit for the delay. According to the Transportation Our Way group, “media pressure on the Histadrut caused it to postpone the strike until at least after the holidays.” The union, it said, was trying to push off onto the state “the blame for the poor financial management of Egged.”
If the strike of 6,500 Egged workers does take place, it will affect well over a million people, including residents of almost every city in Israel, including Yerushalayim and its suburbs, with the exception of residents of the center of the country or of places like Modiin, where Dan and other bus companies provide bus service.