Egged Strike Back on Track; Deadline April 18th

3Egged buses. (Wikipedia/Math Knight)

Egged employees have not given up, and they are still demanding government guarantees of their pensions, along with raises. A strike planned by drivers several weeks ago was ordered postponed by the National Labor Court – but “postponed” is not the same as canceled, and if the court-ordered negotiations do not result in a deal, the strike will be back on.

In a decision by the court, April 18th was given as the new deadline for negotiations. If a deal is not made by that time, 6,000 Egged employees will be free to walk off the job, without having to worry about injunctions that would be issued against the strike by the court. The only requirement for workers is to give three days notice before striking.

Talks have been going on, but they have not been as “intense” as the court wants them to be, and in a hearing, the court ordered both sides to begin more serious talks.

Teams have met, and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz spoke to a delegation of Egged employees last week, in a meeting that employees termed as “having a positive atmosphere.”

A strike of 6,500 Egged workers would 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 of places like Modiin, 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 was set for November 7, and then postponed again several times.

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 increase 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 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 prorated subsidy agreement offered it, demanding more per passenger than it had been receiving previously.