Israel strikebound

The general strike over contract workers has shut down the banks and stock exchange, while Ben Gurion Airport is returning to normal after a six-hour closure.

A general strike began in Israel at 6:00 this morning. Talks between Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) chairman Ofer Eini and Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz, which continued through the night, broke down this morning leaving no end to the strike in sight. A hearing in the National Labor Court will begin at 14:00 today. The strike is over the employment of contract workers.

Progress in the talks was made overnight, but the sticking point remains the Histadruts demand that all contract cleaning workers should be taken on as employees at the places where they work. The Ministry of Finance refuses to hire cleaners as civil servants.

During the night, progress was made in the negotiations after the Ministry of Finance offered millions of shekels to improve the wages and conditions of the workers; unfortunately the Histadrut insists on a position that is liable to drag Israel into an unnecessary strike that will cost the economy billions of shekels, the Ministry of Finance said in a statement released a few minutes before the strike began.

Globes reported yesterday that the Histadrut had reached an agreement with employers organizations for the employment of contract cleaning workers. However, this agreement failed to avert the strike, as the Ministry of Finance objects to it.

I should have liked to reach agreement with the government as well, but it seems that the Minister of Finance has decided to retreat into a bunker and close his ears and his heart, despite the fact that we are talking about the weakest group of workers, who have been taken advantage of for years, Eini said.

The strike has shut down the ports, Ben Gurion Airport (until 12:00 today), the banks, the stock exchange, Israel Post, the Knesset, government ministries, local authorities, the National Insurance Institute, the Employment Service, child daycare centers, the Israel Land Authority. The Dan and Egged bus cooperatives and Israel Railways are each strikebound on alternate days. Hospitals, Israel Electric Corporation, and the Haifa and Ashdod oil refineries are working to a Saturday schedule.

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