Hundreds of privatized Haifa Chemicals workers protested in the streets of Tel Aviv on Tuesday March 28 and on the next day in Jerusalem against the closing of an ammonia plant, which could cause them to lose their jobs.
During Tuesday’s protest in Tel Aviv, demonstrators flooded the Azrieli intersection in the heart of the city to decry a court decision to close a huge ammonia tank in the Haifa Bay area by April 1, following concerns that damage to the storage facility could endanger the lives of tens of thousands of residents of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, and adjacent locales. On Wednesday, the workers closed a street near the residence of the prime minister in Jerusalem.
The tank to be shut down stores the compound that Haifa Chemicals and others use in their production lines. Haifa Chemicals, owned by the Trump Group, is the main consumer of the imported ammonia used to make potassium nitrate, a fertilizer sold to farmers in Israel and around the world to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables.
The Histadrut Federation of Labor has also joined the fight, with Avi Nissenkorn, the organization’s chairman, declaring a labor dispute in the industry and among employees in the south of Israel.
Some 800 workers employs directly by Haifa Chemicals are expected to be affected by the closure of the ammonia tank, in additional to another 3,600 whose employment will be severely impacted by the move, according to the Ministry of the Economy and Industry. These include truck drivers, producers of the plastic bags in which the fertilizer is stored, and shippers. The company is the second largest user of shipping containers in Israel.
The operations of Haifa Chemicals account for 2% of Israel’s industrial exports and 1% of its total exports, the Manufacturers Association of Israel said in a report issued in February.
Also on Wednesday, March 29, employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) demonstrated in front of the Knesset, demanding that they not be fired. Two demonstrators were arrested.
Despite affirming that his primary concern is saving jobs at the IBA, far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely believed to be opposed to the new corporate body formed to replace the IBA because he perceives it as being “too left-wing.” Netanyahu has long complained of a media hostile to him. According to the PM there is a “Bolshevik-media confabulation.” If Treasury minister Moshe Kahlon refused to scrap the new broadcaster, “we’ll go to the polls,” Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home earlier this month. Kahlon does not want to nix the new corporation, saying such a move would “waste massive funds.” Netanyahu and Kahlon met on Wednesday in an attempt to broker a solution to the growing crisis over the new broadcasting authority, which is threatening to break apart the coalition and lead to early elections.