Driving a bus in Israel is a tough job — so tough that few are willing to do it, said MK Dov Hanin (United Arab List) at a discussion of the Knesset Subcommittee on Public Transportation. “In my estimation there are some 3,000 bus drivers lacking in the public transportation system,” said Hanin. “Many people do not want to work as bus drivers, under any circumstances.”
One reason for that is the long hours and low pay. “I am aware that the bus companies recently raised the hourly salary for drivers to NIS 39 an hour, but that is not enough,” said Hanin. “We recommended that they be paid NIS 55.”
The shortage of drivers has led the bus companies to cut corners in hiring personnel — either hiring drivers without sufficient skills and training, or encouraging older drivers to remain on the road past retirement age and taking a chance that their faculties are still fully intact, said MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism). “There are a lot of buses involved in accidents, and it’s not for no reason,” he said. “The state has an interest in investing in bus drivers, as they hold the lives of 50 people in their hands.”
Meanwhile, despite its having been out of the headlines, a major strike by Egged drivers is still on the agenda, said Yaakov Vachnish, chairman of the Egged drivers’ union. “Our drivers are suffering, and if a solution is not found for them soon, we will shut down transportation around the country. We need to hire more drivers, and to do that we need money.”
The reason for the labor dispute between Egged management, the government and the drivers 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 pro-rated subsidy agreement offered it, demanding more per passenger than it had been receiving previously.