Railway workers plan disruptions over privatization plans

Israel Railways workers will tell the Labor Court they are opposed to the privatization of the railway maintenance network, because it's union busting.

The industrial quiet the Israel Railways workers promised the Tel Aviv District Labor Court will end on Sunday. With the backing of the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), Israel Railways workers committee will tell Judge Efrat Laxer that, despite long negotiations, the government is determined to privatize Israel Railways maintenance system. They will tell the judge that, in the face of this determination, they have no choice but to disrupt operations, to the point of derailing the privatization.

It appears that the government revealed its true face during the privatization negotiations. Transport Union chairman Avi Ederi pulled off the masks of the people who asserted that the privatization was a professional matter that was needed to properly maintain Israel Railways' new rolling stock.

"I asked the Ministry of Transport's representative to list for me all the objectives that he wanted to achieve by the privatization," said Ederi. "He replied that he wants availability, service, efficiency, fines for breakdowns, and rewards for success. I told him, 'Sir. I accept. Everything you want, you'll get at the same cost that you'll pay a contractor. Just one thing - everything will remain within the collective agreement. I was told no."

The message was clear to Ederi: Israel Railways' management, the Ministry of Transport, and, most of all, the Ministry of Finance are not seeking service and efficiency - they want to destroy the railway workers' union. "I asked them whether Canada's Bombardier, which has already been promised operations of the privatized maintenance network, will bring in experts from Canada to maintain the carriages. I said to myself whether there was expertise lacking in Israel. I was told that all the workers would be hired in Israel. Do you get it? The whole point is that instead of hiring railway workers, they'll hire contract workers."

Ederi has no doubt that this is the moment of truth. "I look at the social protest and I see that everyone is now talking about privatization. So I want to see the same students who are fighting now hit the streets for the railway workers."

Ederi may be disappointed. It is much more popular to boycott Tnuva Food Industries Ltd. than to defend railway workers. Someone has been preaching for years that the powerful unions are the part of the problem. It can now be show that a strong union may be part of the solution.

The Histadrut joins the struggle with clean hands. Barely a month ago, it signed an unprecedented agreement that promises a real revolution in train safety. The agreement also stipulated ten years of industrial quiet on the railways.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 15, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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