Israeli strike called off after union, government reach deal

Story highlights

  • The four-day strike urged better conditions for workers in various sectors
  • Overnight negotiations between the trade union and the finance ministry yield an agreement
  • The deal raises monthly wages and social benefits for Israeli workers
Israeli labor leaders and government officials announced Sunday they have reached an agreement, ending a nationwide general strike that paralyzed the public sector for days.
The four-day strike aimed to improve employment conditions for workers in various sectors affected the operation of Israeli airports, railways, hospitals, banks and government ministries.
Overnight negotiations between Israel's trade union organization, Histadrut, and the ministry of finance led to a deal that raises monthly wages and social benefits for thousands of Israeli workers.
"Israel is the only member country of the OECD who strengthens weak workers at this time of global (financial) crisis," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the new deal at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting.
"This (agreement) is a highly important achievement that fixes decades of injustices," he said.
Last week, Netanyahu warned of the potential economic cost of the labor action.
"The Israeli economy is at a sensitive position and this is not the time to jeopardize the stability we have achieved through hard work and cooperation between the government and the labor federation at a time when leading economies around the world have crashed," the prime minister said.
Histadrut officials said there are up to 400,000 Israelis who work as subcontractors (in both the private and the public sectors) many paid less and eligible for fewer benefits than regularly employed union members.
Union officials wanted to see conditions for these workers improved, including full employment rights. Israel's finance ministry has agreed to improve wages and benefits for these workers, but declined to allow full employment rights for all as demanded by union officials.
The union reached a tentative deal last week with an employers organization to allow for more subcontracted workers to become regular full time employees, but no agreement could be reached for those workers subcontracted by the government before the strike.
As a result of the new agreement, 1,000 subcontracted workers of the public sector will become fully employed by the state and 80,000 others, mainly security and cleaning workers will enjoy an improved salary of 4,500 Shekels (about $1,200) in addition to improved social benefits such as larger employer participation in pension's savings, holiday gifts and subsidized meals.
The damage to the Israeli economy for each of the four days of strike is estimated at 2.4 billion shekels (about $648 million).