Ministers in Last-Ditch Effort to Head Off Egged Mega-Strike

The Egged bus depot in Kiryat Moshe, Yerushalayim.
The Egged bus depot in Kiryat Moshe, Yerushalayim.

Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon and Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn will meet on Monday to discuss ways to prevent an impending strike that will shut down Egged bus operations throughout the country. The strike had originally been set to begin on the day after Yom Kippur, but the new strike date has been set for November 7. 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 places like Modiin, where Dan and other bus companies provide bus service.

The reason for the strike is complicated and involves not just workers’ rights, but government assistance to Egged. For the past year, Egged has not received what it claims are much-needed subsidies to goose its budget. The bus company claims that without a renewal of the government subsidy to the firm – with the former agreement expiring ten 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 is 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 prorated subsidy agreement offered it, demanding more per passenger than it had been receiving previously.

Nissenkorn has attributed the lack of a contract to the government’s attempt to “break” Egged as the largest bus company in Israel. “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 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.”

If the strike does take place, “the public will need to prepare for traffic jams the likes of which have never been seen before,” Egged spokesperson Ron Ratner said. “This will be the most chaotic traffic situation in the past 20 years, if the Histadrut goes through with its strike. I do not want to imagine what might happen when 1.2 million Israelis cannot get to where they have to go.”

Ratner said that the company “regrets that this issue has reached the point of crisis. We have been working with the Finance and Transportation Ministries on renewing the contract for the past 18 months. Unfortunately, there has not been progress on this for many months. Without a long-term arrangement with the government, we are unable to sign a new collective bargaining agreement with drivers and ensure their rights and the rights of other workers.”