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Israeli bosses demand legal action against general strike

Israeli public sector workers' picket line in 2003

An almost total shutdown of Israeli industry following a general strike has been threatened with legal action after The Manufacturers Association and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce have asked the National Labour Court to end the strike.

The Manufacturers Association and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC) appealed to the National Labor Court Wednesday morning to order an end to the general strike in the public sector called by the Histadrut and to invite all relevant parties to an urgent discussion on the matter. The Association estimated that the strike would cost the economy NIS 500m. per day, Israel Radio reported.

The court was expected to address the petitions at 4pm on Wednesday.

At Ben-Gurion airport, flights were being allowed to land, but passengers were not receiving their luggage. However, exceptions would be made for the basketball team from Ljubljana who has come to play Maccabi Tel Aviv as well as for Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman who was expected to arrive via private plane.

The Histadrut labor federation general public-sector strike began at 6am Wednesday, shutting down all government offices and bringing outgoing traffic at the country's airports and seaports to a halt.

Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini held a meeting late Tuesday night with Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On in an attempt to avert the strike, but no progress was made.

Despite the declaration of a general strike, there were still a few who defied it. Some Interior Ministry offices initially refused to join the strike and opened to the public as usual Wednesday morning, Army Radio reported. However, by midday, head of the civil servants union, Ariel Yaakobi, had shut down those offices, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, as well.

A British Airways flight also attempted to take off after the strike began. The company turned to the Israel Airports Authority and asked them to allow the flight to leave Israel because the flight crew had not woken up in time to depart before the strike started. The Authority agreed to permit the flight to take off along with its passengers. However, the airport workers' union refused to allow the flight to proceed. Just after midday, the British Airways flight took off without its passengers to return to England.

According to the Histadrut, 81 local authorities and 13 religious councils have failed to pay employees or transfer money to pension funds for months, affecting at least 40,000 workers. The Histadrut estimates a total of NIS 1 billion is owed.

The government is arguing that poor planning and mismanagement by regional councils led them to near bankruptcy far beyond the annual budget allocation.

The Ministry of Defense, Israel Lands Administration, Employment Service, National Insurance Institute, Bank of Israel, Tax Authority, courts and religious councils have all joined the strike.

The Israel Post will not deliver mail but the postal bank will be open; train service is frozen but Dan and Egged buses are operating. Banks, health services, Magen David Adom, and Mekorot - the water company - are expected to work as usual but Bezeq will have no operator service and operate in Shabbat-mode, as will Israel Electric, except in emergencies. Schools are expected to operate as usual.

Speaking at a Ma'ariv conference earlier Tuesday, Hirchson urged Eini to allow a few more days to resolve the issues.

"I am aware of the problem in local government and I will call a meeting today together with Eini and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On in an effort to discuss the real extent of the problem and to find ways of solving the problem. We can solve the problem without causing hardship to our citizens," he said.

Train service is frozen but Dan and Egged buses are operating. Banks, health services, Magen David Adom, and Mekorot - the water company - are expected to work as usual but Bezeq will have no operator service and operate in Shabbat-mode, as will Israel Electric, except in emergencies. Schools are expected to operate as usual.

Speaking at a Ma'ariv conference earlier Tuesday, Hirchson urged Eini to allow a few more days to resolve the issues.

"I am aware of the problem in local government and I will call a meeting today together with Eini and Interior Minister Roni Bar-On in an effort to discuss the real extent of the problem and to find ways of solving the problem. We can solve the problem without causing hardship to our citizens," he said.

Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said Tuesday the private sector could not continue to pay for the failures of the public sector and urged Hirchson to solve the problem to protect the business sector and the economy.

This week, Eini sent a letter to Bar-On and Hirchson saying that he had decided to declare a strike after they failed to answer his calls for a solution to the crisis.

"I am not willingly calling a strike action," said Eini. "To avoid bringing labor relations to the brink, I allowed, in excess of legal requirements, a two-week extension to reach and sign a deal on the matter. But as no agreement has been signed, I have no choice but to inform you that the Histadrut will undertake industrial action in the coming days."

In September, the Finance Ministry averted a general strike over the unpaid wages of local authority and religious council employees and firefighters by promising they would be paid by the end of September.

Eini, Bar-On and Hirchson signed an agreement to transfer NIS 100 million. Nevertheless, the Histadrut says dozens of local authorities and religious authorities, and some municipal firefighters associations, have not been paid, while money due to be paid into pension and advanced training funds is also missing.

Services affected by general strike
The following services and institutions are expected to participate in Wednesday morning's general strike:

- All government offices;
- all airports and seaports;
- all railways;
- all local authorities;
- garbage collection workers.

The Israel Lands Administration, the National Insurance Institute (NII), the electric company, and the Bezeq phone company will not answer phones and will not be open to the public. The courts and post offices will reduce their working hours and will not be open to the public. Emergency fire and rescue services will operate with a reduced workforce, as they do on Shabbat [the Sabbath - admin].

The institutions and services that will not be affected by the strike are:
- Magen David Adom;
- health services, clinics, and hospitals;
- special education;
- public transportation, including the Egged and Dan bus services;
- Naamat and WIZO daycare centers;
- the Broadcasting Authority.