Egged Strike Off for Now

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

The major strike planned by Egged employees for Monday is off, management and union officials announced Motzoei Shabbos. After nearly a week of intense bargaining to head off the strike, the government has agreed to give Egged NIS 150 million so that it can pay salaries for the next several months. Negotiations on the government contract to provide the company with subsidies will continue, and management will distribute the Rosh Hashanah gift that employees did not get this year due to the crisis.

Shai Babad, director general of the Finance Ministry, said he was happy that “both sides demonstrated maturity and responsibility, and canceled the strike, which would have caused a great deal of suffering and damage to the economy. Over the next month we will conduct intensive negotiations with Egged in order to close a long-term deal.”

Had the strike of 6,500 Egged workers taken place, it would have affected 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 Modi’in, where Dan and other bus companies provide bus service. The strike had originally been set to begin on the day after Yom Kippur, but the new strike date had been set for November 7. In a preview of the strike, 600 drivers stayed off the job last Wednesday, demonstrating at the Finance Ministry in order to impress upon officials that they meant to strike. That work action affected hundreds of thousands of Egged bus passengers, many of whom were left stranded for hours due to the lack of service.

The reason for the labor dispute between Egged management, the government and the drivers 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 prop up its budget. The bus company claimed that without a renewal of the government subsidy to the firm – with the former agreement expiring ten months ago – the company might 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, 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.