This is pretty interesting
To our Israeli members... What the f*** is going on? Did Lieberman drink too much - at least that's how he sounded on the Russian radio today in the morning?
Gov't to debate use of Egypt, Jordan ports to bypass strike
By Haim Bior, Zohar Blumenkrantz and Moti Bassok, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service
The treasury will Wednesday present to the
government an unprecedented measure to counter a
strike by seaport workers, which calls for the use
of Egyptian and Jordanian harbors for imports and
The decision to use foreign
harbors was reached Tuesday at
meeting between treasury and
Workers at Israel's three
seaports - Haifa, Ashdod and
Eilat - began their strike at 6
A.M. Tuesday after a breakdown
in overnight talks between Transportation
Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the chairman of
the Histadrut labor federation, Amir Peretz.
Some 2,500 workers at the three ports, as well
as staff at the Ports Authority headquarters in
Tel Aviv, joined the nation-wide public-sector
strike - called in protest at planned cuts to
state and welfare spending.
Goods could in the next two days begin to travel
on trucks to and from Port Said in Egypt and
Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and Nitzana in
the Negev, and to and from Aqaba in Jordan and
the Arava crossing.
Under this plan, the finance ministry would
compensate importers and exporters who incur
extra expenses due to the use of this
truck/foreign port system.
Should this plan go into effect, government
officials decided, wages of striking harbor
workers would not be paid. Money saved from
these deductions would be used to finance
compensation for companies using the more
costly Aqaba-Port Said plan.
Sources at the treasury said Tuesday evening
that the government would do everything it
could to maintain Israel's international trade,
despite the strike.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said earlier Tuesday
that it was easy to see that the port workers'
strike was a political move aimed at disrupting
There are no plans to fire port workers, Sharon
said, but rather to add 400 more employees.
Meanwhile, Likud MK Ruhama Avraham told Peretz
that if the port strike did not come to end,
she would propose a bill to prohibit workers
providing essential services - including ports,
electricity and water - from striking at all,
Army Radio reported.
Sharon and Lieberman on Tuesday called on
employees at the country's ports to return to
work despite the previous night's failed
About 40 ships were stuck Tuesday morning at
Haifa and Ashdod ports due to the strike,
unable to enter or leave the country.
Date-growers fear that the strike could prevent
export of hundreds of tons of produce to Spain,
Britain and the United States, the Itim news
In addition, long lines formed at the security
checkpoints in Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday
after many passengers arrived from Toronto and
Customs workers at the airport are also delaying
passengers by conducting extraneous checks. The
airport is expected to become more crowded
toward evening, when more flights are scheduled
Shinui Chairman Reshef Chayne asked Attorney
General Elyakim Rubinstein on Tuesday to
investigate whether customs workers were
allowed to take their authority to search and
question people and turn it against the
government by participating in the strike, Army
The talks between Lieberman and Histadrut labor
federation chairman MK Amir Peretz (One Nation)
ended in failure at dawn Tuesday, after the
government agreed to freeze a privatization
plan, but refused to cancel the plan entirely.
On Monday, some 50,000 civil servants launched
open-ended sanctions. The Finance Ministry
responded by intimating that it may turn to the
courts to obtain back-to-work orders against
the striking workers employees responsible for
essential services on Tuesday morning. These
include customs workers, who on Monday severely
hampered the movement of goods and people
through the country's ports and airports.
The treasury is also considering ordering civil
servants engaged in partial sanctions - meaning
that they come to the office, but refuse to
receive the public - to simply stay home. This
would enable the government to dock them a full
Workers engaged in partial sanctions can be
docked no more than 30 percent of their day's
salary. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel
Hollander issued a similar order Monday.
Ports in a storm
The port workers are specifically upset over a
planned reform aimed at introducing competition
into the nation's ports that, they fear, would
result in dismissals.
Lieberman agreed to the meeting under pressure
from the Manufacturers' Association, which, in
a rare move, sided with the union by saying
that the government had been wrong to approve
the reform without consulting union leaders.
But he stopped short of bowing to a union
demand to guarnateed in writing that there
would be no privatization of the ports.
Treasury officials threatened Monday that if the
port workers did strike, "we will proceed
immediately to full privatization of the
Under the current plan, the ports would remain
state-owned, but would be turned into
independent government companies.
The Histadrut labor federation's strike
committee on Monday decided against stepping up
the sanctions, at least until after next
Monday's Yom Kippur holiday. After Yom Kippur,
the labor federation will consider further
escalation, including delaying flights into and
out of Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Additionally, hospital workers are slated to
join the strike after Yom Kippur. These workers
engaged in only limited sanctions on Monday:
They held a protest meeting during work hours,
during which time they refused to work.
The civil servants are also striking over
planned reforms in various government
ministries, including the privatization of the
Public Works Department (Ma'atz), the
unification of the Income Tax Authority and the
Value Added Tax Authority (currently two
independent units of the treasury), the merger
of the treasury's wages division with the Civil
Service Commission, and the closure of a few
government hospitals. The workers fear that all
of these reforms will result in layoffs.
Monday's sanctions, in addition to the customs
slowdown, which caused huge lines at Ben-Gurion
Airport, meant that people could not obtain a
passport, identity card, birth certificate or
any other Interior Ministry document; no
driving tests for driver's licenses were given;
no real estate deals could be finalized; people
could not apply for any sort of National
Insurance Institute allowance; and unemployed
individuals were unable to obtain either job
offers or unemployment compensation through the
However, at the Industry Ministry's request, the
strikers did agree to allow single parents on
welfare to register with the Employment Service
- something that due to a recent change in the
law, many must do this month in order to
continue receiving their payments.
Ofer Eini, head of the Civil Servants Union,
insisted Monday that the strike was justified,
since "the government is crudely violating the
agreement it signed with the Histadrut at the
end of May, under which 700 civil servants were
fired and the salaries of public-sector workers
were cut by an average of 4 percent."
The Histadrut was also promised in that
agreement that there would be no reorganization
of government ministries, Eini said, and the
violation of all these promises justified the
Histadrut's violation of its pledge to refrain
from strikes until July 2005.
In response, treasury wage director Yuval
Rachlevsky said: "The Histadrut is
disseminating inaccurate information regarding
the agreement that was signed last May. That
agreement contained no promise not to fire
workers due to restructuring or other measures
to streamline the public sector."