Histadrut General Federation of Labor in Israel chairperson Avi Nissenkorn announced on Thursday that a general strike will take place on Wednesday, November 7, in response to governmental inaction over the increasing toll of construction site accidents in Israel.
From the beginning of 2018, 37 construction workers have died and 191 have been injured – 38 of them seriously – in on-the-job accidents at building sites. In 2017, a total of 35 construction workers died and 264 were injured.
Speaking at the “We Work to Live, Not to Die” conference held by the Histadrut in Tel Aviv, Nissenkorn declared, “This will be a tough strike, but it is a small price to pay for saving lives, and we won’t compromise over this matter. There will be no exceptions to the strike. Government offices, the Knesset, the local authorities, firefighters, and the water corporations will all go on strike.”
The labor federation chief cited a list of strike participants that includes the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, Israel Aerospace Industries, the universities, Ashot Ashkelon Industries, government ministries, public and local authorities, banks, transport services, the Airports Authority. They will be joined by a range of major private sector unions. Hundreds of work committee members and leaders of large unions and other organizations took part in the last Thursday’s conference.
“Nothing happens in vacuum,” Nissenkorn remarked. “Workers in the construction industry are being killed, bus drivers are being assaulted, and nurses are being attacked, because people are not respected here. I met with government representatives yesterday, and we argued about job slots for construction site inspectors. It’s a matter of NIS 20 million, and the ministries are arguing about who will pay for it. Meanwhile, workers are falling to their deaths.”
Three weeks ago, Histadrut institutions authorized the opening of a general labor dispute. This announcement was preceded by Nissenkorn’s appeals to government ministries and employers to reach a consensual collective arrangement for regulating safety in workplaces, with an emphasis on stopping fatalities in the construction sector. Since the legal cooling off period has expired and decision-makers and employers have proposed no practical steps to redress the situation, the Histadrut is preparing for a full shutdown of the economy.
In recent days the Histadrut published a list of demands for safety regulations in the construction sector, including making the European standards for scaffolding binding, enforcing the obligation to wear safety harnesses, regulating the use of cranes on construction sites, and adding a mandatory safety appendix to state construction and infrastructure tenders.
One of the speakers at Thursday’s conference was Katty Karkolov, a crane operator who became a symbol of the struggle when she was fired for refusing to work a crane during a windstorm. “I’m tired of us being treated as if we don’t matter. I paid a heavy price. We have embarked on a long struggle for our safety, and I am glad that we are succeeding in part of our struggle. I appeal to all workers not to take your lives for granted. Fight. We do matter, and we are not alone anymore. We are together, we are powerful, and we cannot be ignored anymore.”