General strike Feb. 8, 2012 (Moti Milrod)
Social demonstrators at Ben Gurion airport, Feb. 8, 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The general strike declared by Israel's main labor federation continued into its second day on Thursday, after a night of negotiations at the office of National Labor Court President Nili Arad with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini ,and the head of the Manufacturer’s association of Israel failed to yield an agreement.

Arad extended the talks, originally meant to continue until 1 A.M, following the requests of the various parties. A final decision was meant to be reached by 6 A.M., but the parties requested a further two-hour extension to 8 A.M., which was also granted.

National Labor Court President Nili Arad was expected to decide in the early hours of this morning whether to allow the general strike to continue, after hearing from representatives of the Histadrut labor federation, Finance Ministry and private employers on the results of their talks.

After this round of talks, the parties will update Arad by phone, and she will decide on next steps.

The Histadrut ordered Ben Gurion airport staff to resume work on Thursday morning.  Workers were not at strike at the airport on Wednesday, but there were disturbances to services. A strike was planned between 6 A.M. and 12 P.M. on Thursday. 

The parties in the dispute were originally meant to report to Arad by 1 A.M. after meeting in a bid to reach an agreement over the conditions of workers subcontracted from personnel agencies, but the negotiating parties failed to reach agreement and requested additional time which was approved by the National Labor Court.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the strike appeared to be drawing to a close.

Before the decisive court session, officials of the treasury, Histadrut and Coordinating Bureau of Economic Organizations, which represents the private employers, met Wednesday night in a bid to restart the stalled talks about subcontracted workers.

The Histadrut demanded the state hire the subcontracted workers directly, especially the cleaning workers. Those who were not hired directly must receive the same wages, benefits and terms as the regular employees doing the same work, the labor federation insisted.

The Finance Ministry rejected the demands, saying it was willing to raise the subcontracted workers'wages by 20-25 percent and make sure their rights are maintained.

On Wednesday, Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini said he would end the strike immediately if Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Shalom Simhon signed an order to apply the agreement the labor federation had reached separately with the private employers to the public sector.

Earlier in the day, the Histadrut and Coordination Bureau of Economic Organizations reached an agreement under which a subcontracted worker would receive the same wages as a company worker in the same position.

Histadrut officials said the accord with the private employers was a breakthrough. But treasury officials were enraged, seeing it as an attempt by the Histadrut to twist the treasury's arm in the negotiations.

The agreement with the private employers has not yet been fully signed. It stipulates that subcontracted workers whose work is an integral part of the company's activity would be directly employed after nine months of continuous employment.Other subcontracted workers would be directly employed after 18 months of continuous work.

Some private employers objected to the agreement. Head of the cleaning companies' association in the Coordinating Bureau, Yitzhak Sabag, said giving subcontracted workers equal conditions as direct company workers would "put an end to the cleaning companies."

The Histadrut declared a general strike as of Wednesday morning, causing delays at Ben-Gurion Airport and affecting banks, hospitals, government offices, trains, the stock exchange, courts, the Chief Rabbinate, Tax Authority, ports, subsidized day care centers and more.

Most Israel Radio channels were also on strike on Wednesday. "Stopping the broadcasts is part of the solidarity among workers, and we also support an agreement to find a solution to the subcontracted workers predicament," said a senior member of the Broadcasting Authority's engineering union. The strike at Ben-Gurion Airport ended at noon. However, customs officials are expected to continue work disruptions, which may cause long lines for passengers in the afternoon hours.

Read this article in Hebrew