Ben Gurion Strike Suspended; Talks to Continue Monday

YERUSHALAYIM -
The empty departure hall at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

The workers’ committee of airport staff at Ben Gurion Airport suspended their strike Friday afternoon, following a personal appeal from Transportation Minister Miri Regev.

The committee was informed that Regev will be meeting with senior Treasury officials next Monday to discuss their plight.

During the few hours that the airport staff were on strike from the morning, dozens of aircraft were impacted. Aircraft that were due to land in Israel were forced to either return or to detour to land in alternate destinations. The general strike also included cargo flights.

The last few months, with next to no flights inwards or outgoing, have taken their toll on the airport and its staff.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz has told his ministry’s officials to finalize the details with El Al as soon as possible and authorize a state guarantee for the airline. Katz thus joins his voice to that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has directed that the state should aid El Al and prevent its collapse.

For months, the sides have been discussing a $400 million loan for El Al. The state agreed to provide a guarantee for 82.5% of the loan in return for a series of efficiency measures, some of which El Al is finding it hard to implement.

The Finance Ministry’s demands include steps that El Al called unreasonable, such as a NIS 100 million capital injection by its owners alongside efficiency measures saving $350 million annually, which would be through the dismissal of about one third of El Al’s 6,000 workers, among them 200 pilots. Further savings would come from the sale of 20% of El Al’s fleet of 45 aircraft, closure of loss-making routes, and the postponement of new routes that El Al had planned, such as to Tokyo.

In order to receive the desired aid, El Al will have to present a collective agreement with its employees. This is a considerable challenge, because the workers committee is in dispute with the management, a dispute that reached a peak when representatives of the committee violently disrupted a discussion between the management, the Histadrut, and the pilots’ representatives, following which the Histadrut suspended the committee.

Besides a NIS 100 million injection from the owners, the Finance Ministry is demanding that El Al should reach agreement with its overseas lenders on deferment of debt amounting to $150 million. Above the gap between the sides hovers the new minister of finance’s instruction not to drag out the process and to enable El Al to obtain the cash injection as soon as possible.

Like all airlines around the world, El Al finds itself in financial difficulties.