Top management spat behind Ashdod Port strike

CEO Yehoshua Sagis claimed misconduct by chairman Gideon Sitterman, and the latter allegedly provoked the workers' go-slow.

The Italian strike at Ashdod Port, that has been reported as a "workers committees rule" story, could in fact turn out to be a story of misconduct by management, according to evidence that has reached "Globes" from reliable sources at the port. According to this evidence, the chairman of the board of Ashdod Port, Gideon Sitterman, sought to terminate the employment of CEO Yehoshua Sagis's personal assistant only because Sagis tried to prevent political appointments that Sitterman allegedly sought to promote.

Sources inform "Globes" that the port's board recently received a four-page document containing severe personal allegations against Sitterman by Sagis. Sources involved in the matter insist that this document, signed by Sagis and apparently based on his testimony and that of other senior managers, will shortly be examined by the Government Companies Authority and the State Comptroller.

The document is fairly dramatic: Sagis claims that Sitterman attempted to intervene in procurement tenders of the port, and also to appoint associates. According to his testimony in the document, Sitterman sought to intervene in a tender for the employment of new stevedores at the port to favor none other than the son of his bureau head (Daniel Halfin), a Likud activist. In another instance, Sitterman tried to arrange employment at the port for a woman who was also close to a member of the Likud central committee.

The sources at the port are convinced that after Sagis apparently blocked his attempts to appoint cronies, Sitterman started to take his revenge. He convened a special board meeting from which board members representing the port workers were excluded, and even sought to exclude Sagis, the VP human resources, and the legal counsel. At that meeting, a decision was taken to change the procedures for hiring employees to outlaw the employment of relatives in the bureaus of the CEO, the board, the legal counsel, and the internal auditor. There was a further element to this decision however that aroused the anger of the workers: Sitterman decided that the change would be retroactive. This had the consequence that Zehavit Kenan, Sagis's personal assistant, who had only recently married the port's work manager, would have to move from her post and perhaps even leave altogether if she or her husband were not found suitable jobs.

Both the port management and the workers felt that it would be unjust to dismiss one of them just because they had fallen in love. Kenan, it emerges, in any case had to sign a special procedure obliging her to avoid involvement in any matters connected to her husband's work. At the height of the drama, Kenan, with the backing of Ashdod port workers' committee head Alon Hassan, decided that he and not his wife would leave the port. This decision was intended to stir up the workers and make clear that such a step would not go unchallenged.

Sources familiar with the matter claim that the Histadrut thought that the affair should be investigated by the State Comptroller and should not lead to work sanctions, but the workers committee took the most effective step they could a go slow.

Two weeks ago, the heads of the Ashdod Port workers' committee met Minister of Transport YIsrael Katz, who said that if the allegations against Sitterman proved correct, he would reprimand him. The meeting with the minister did not lead to a reversal of the board's decision, and the workers' committee ordered a go slow a few days ago. But yesterday evening, the board met and ordered postponement of implementation of the decision on employment of relatives until March.

"There is no doubt that this affair, which has been distorted in the media, will yet make waves and be investigated by the relevant authorities," one source involved in the affair said.

Meanwhile, the price is being paid by the port's customers. According to the Manufacturers Association, which has applied to the National Labor Court for an order that the port workers should work normally, 15 ships are waiting outside the port, 8 have left for Haifa Port, and one is leaving Israel's shores. The Association says that the damage stands at NIS 25-30 million. National Labor Court president Nili Arad will hold a closed hearing in her chambers this evening.,

The Ashdod Port board of directors said in a statement: "The board did begin to discuss the CEO's claims yesterday. The board will shortly convene again to discuss the document and the responses provided by the chairman. The board did not change any procedure relating to hiring of employees. It only referred to strict application of the existing procedures, under which a member of staff in certain bureaus may not work there if they have relatives there. As far as the other matters are concerned, responses will be given first of all to the board in the framework of its examination of the CEO's claims." The board denied the claim of intervention in procurement tenders.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 16, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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