The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) leadership approved unanimously Tuesday, September 4, the proposal of its chairman Arnon Bar-David to declare a general work dispute throughout Israel’s public sector. This will allow the Histadrut to call a general strike of Israel’s 700,000 employees in the public sector in 14 days. The labor dispute is in response to the Finance Ministry’s proposed pay cuts in the salaries of public sector workers amidst the financial crisis created by the pandemic.In a characteristically neo-liberal capitalist offensive, the Finance Ministry proposed a plan to significantly cut the salaries of public sector workers for 27 months, beginning in October of this year. “The finance minister,” Bar-David said, “does not understand that on March 10, the public sector gave him and the prime minister the ability to operate freely during the COVID-19 crisis.” In the official statement the labor federation claimed that the Finance Ministry intends to take “unilateral action that will have a substantial, direct and significant impact on the rights and working conditions of employees… disregarding their representative body and even their basic rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
The announcement by the Histadrut came on the backdrop of an open-ended strike by 2,000 lab workers from around 400 public labs that process the results for coronavirus testing which began on Sunday, August 30. Hundreds of lab technicians, who are today on their sixth day of of the strike, protested outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday at 5 pm to demand that the premier intervene to bring their walkout to a swift conclusion.
The protesters, who carried signs protesting their difficult working conditions, the increasing privatization of the system and their personal economic hardship, said that they had gotten no response from anyone in the far-right government to their demonstration. Many carried signs bearing the slogans, “No medicine without labs!”, “The laboratories are collapsing, but the government is in the Emirates.” and “The frustration is huge that the government is throwing 4 billion shekels to the private laboratories.” “If only there was a tenth of the amount invested in the public labs, we would have no reason to strike,” Esther Admon, chair of the Union of Biochemists, Microbiologists and Laboratory Workers, told the protesters.
Unemployment has soared to 21 percent since the start of the pandemic, as Israel’s economy suffered its worst contraction in decades. Israel has also been without a state budget since 2019 and may end 2020 without one, thanks to an ongoing fight in the far-right government between the Likud and its Blue & White coalition partner over whether the budget should include 2021 as well. Many see the battle as a manufactured crisis designed to help Netanyahu stay in power without having to make good on a rotation agreement with Blue & White leader Benny Gantz.
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