Hundreds of thousands of Egged bus passengers were delayed Wednesday as drivers provided a preview of the major work action they planned for next week. Six hundred drivers stayed home Wednesday, preparing instead to participate in a mass demonstration outside the Finance Ministry headquarters in Yerushalayim.
In a message to drivers, the Histadrut said that attendance at the demonstration was crucial. “This is the true test of how committed we are to our future,” the message said. “Only with large numbers can we persuade the government to take us seriously. We are fighting for our homes and families, for our current and future work agreements. We must show unity, maturity and above all commitment to our future.”
The demonstration is a prelude to a mass strike the union has called for Egged workers beginning next week. The reason for the strike is complicated and involves not just worker’s 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 Modi’in, Ra’anana, Beitar Ilit, 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.
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.”