El Al workers brought their grievances over the threat of additional layoffs to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s departure from Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday.
A protest, which numbered around airline employees briefly delayed Bennett’s flight to Washington for a long-planned meeting with President Biden, the first time the two will have met since the new Israeli government took office.
The Histadrut labor federation formally declared a labor dispute with the aviation industry on Tuesday, the legal prerequisite to any strike action, which can now begin in two weeks.
If the Histadrut does initiate sanctions, it could cause further inconvenience for travelers and a major headache for the airlines, already beleaguered by coronavirus restrictions.
El Al, Israir, and Arkia are planning to lay off additional employees, extend unpaid leave for many employees, and change the terms of workers’ contracts, the Histadrut said.
There is also concern that the airlines may close some departments and outsource work in an effort aimed at cutting costs, the union said.
El Al laid off an estimated 2000 workers earlier this year as part of a government bailout program designed to streamline the company’s operations and make it fiscally more viable.
“I deal with the crisis in the aviation industry from morning to night,” said Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David. “Unfortunately, it seems that there are those who do not recognize the importance of this industry, not only for employment and the Israeli economy, but for the State of Israel in many other aspects.
“When the crisis broke out, the Histadrut rallied round to rescue the aviation industry and rehabilitate it, through unprecedented recovery and efficiency agreements that we signed with the companies, and financial aid that we extended to them. This does not mean that the way is open to mass layoffs and curtailment of employee rights whenever they see fit, as a quick and easy solution for the companies. I won’t allow that.”