Union’s Ultimatum to State: Pay Up or Bus Drivers Go On Strike

Egged buses. (Wikipedia/Math Knight)

After wrapping up a deal for El Al pilots, the Histadrut is now turning its attention to ground transportation. On Monday, Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn said he was giving the government a month to wrap up a deal with Egged – otherwise, the company’s buses will stop operating. As it stands now, the strike will commence on March 21st – just weeks before Pesach, when a strike is likely to wreak havoc with many people’s preparations for the chag.

At issue is a demand by the company that the government bail it out yet again from debts that have piled up and that threaten to send the company into bankruptcy. 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.

A strike that had been set for last November was alleviated when the government agreed to give Egged NIS 150 million to pay salaries for the coming months while negotiations on the subsidies continued. That money has now run out, and Nissenkorn is demanding a final resolution of the matter.

“The foot-dragging by the Transportation and Finance Ministries on this matter has caused significant damage to drivers,” said Nissenkorn. “We will not stand by idly while thousands of drivers are unable to pay their bills. The government continues to ignore the interests of the public, and it is dragging the transportation sector to an unprecedentedly dangerous place.”

If the company’s 6,500 workers do go on strike, it will affect well over a million people, including residents of almost every city in Israel, including Jerusalem 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.