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Labor Troubles in Israel, Again

27 September 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

As if the economic situation is Israel was not bad enough, the Histadrut labor union and the government are battling each other again, barely four months after the latest round of labor unrest brought about as a result of the cutbacks in the 2003 state budget.

Finance ministry officials claim they are going through with reforms as planned and agreed upon, while union officials see the implementation of more job cuts in the state sector as a violation of the previous agreement.  Interestingly enough, no one is consulting the labor courts, yet.

Government workers are not receiving the public nor answering phones.  Customs officials are checking every bag at all points of entry to the country, making sure the traveling public during the holiday season feels the sting.  Worse yet they are threatening to investigate every parcel in any container arriving in Israel.  Such delays are designed to seriously damage Israel’s industries, heavily dependent on raw materials.   They figure industry will be forced to join their side.

Worker solidarity crumbled last time as industrial labor found itself on the same side as the Manufacturers Association in wanting all the sanctions lifted.  State workers and especially clerical staff were cast in the role of spoilers as they shut down the overblown bureaucracy necessary for permits and taxation, wreaking havoc on commerce.  Should port workers join the action desperation may set in.

Oded Tira, president of the Manufacturers Association is threatening serious steps but will not reveal what he means.  Israel is in its most prolonged economic downturn since 1948 and production is needed as a remedy more than ever.  Last time industry came very close to firing tens of thousands of workers due to a lack of raw materials.  

Of all the economic catastrophes one can foresee, that comes close to being the worst.