The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), Pelephone Communications Ltd. employees, and all employees seeking to unionize, have won a major victory. The National Labor Court, under President Nili Arad, yesterday handed down a precedent-setting, and even internationally historic, ruling that an employer does not have the right to intervene or express an opinion about unionization by employees.
The court accepted the position of the Histadrut, which was almost completely endorsed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Along with the achievement for employees, employers will likely consider the ruling a blow.
Judge Arad was joined by Vice President Yigal Plitman and Judge Amiram Rabinovich in the ruling, which states, "The employer does not have freedom of expression, in other words, the right of response to employees exercising their right to unionize. Its intervention in this process causes disproportionate harm to the internal democratic process of its employees, to which it is not a party. There is a reason why initial unionization of employees in the workplace mostly occurs in secrecy, and emerges only when the number of union members allows its recognition as a representative organization."
Under the ruling, during unionization activity, the employer may only undertake the activity it undertook before the unionization, and then only if these activities do not harm the unionization.
The Histadrut appealed to the National Labor Court against a ruling by Tel Aviv District Labor Court Judge Orant Agassi, who ruled that the freedom of expression to unionize by Pelephone's employees should be balanced by the employer's freedom of expression in the matter of the unionization.
The National Labor Court explicitly overturned the lower court ruling, stating, "The decision of the district labor court, which is based on an assumption of equality between the right to unionize and the employer's freedom of expression, should be sety aside."
According to the ruling, when considering a conflict between rights - freedom to unionize against the employer's freedom of expression - the harm to the employer's freedom of expression is "proportionate and essential" so long as it is intended to maintain and realize the employees' right to unionize.
Even the public's representative on behalf of employers who signed the ruling, former Manufacturers Association of Israel managing director Yoram Blizovsky, joined the judges' opinion.
As for Pelephone's management, which immediately after learning about the unionization of its employees, sought to pressure them to the point of demanding that they should cancel their Histadrut membership, the judges said, "The company will not monitor employees who have joined the union, or employees who opted not to unionize, by keeping lists or in any other way; the company will refrain from presenting its position on unionization at employee meetings organized by the Histadrut at company sites; at personal or group meetings with employees; by e-mail; or in any other way."
The ruling also states that Pelephone's management must "refrain from presenting employees the disadvantages that it believes are caused by joining the union, and the consequences of unionization for the financial position of the company, including sending position papers to employees and promoting its view on unionization."
Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said in response to the ruling, "This is a historic day for the right of employees in Israel to unionize. I am sure that the ruling will result in the unionization of employees in all sectors, and that they will decide about their future without any pressure or intervention by the employer. I call on all employees in Israel: take your fate into your hands, rise up and unionize without fear or favor, because this is the only way to improve your position."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 3, 2013
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