A protest by hundreds of El Al employees delayed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s flight to Washington on Tuesday, August 23, ahead of his long-awaited meeting with US President Joe Biden. The same day, yielding to pressure by unions representing workers in Israel’s aviation industry, the Histadrut Labor Federation declared a labor dispute, meaning that the unions can begin imposing sanctions after two weeks have elapsed, measures which would likely include strikes and disrupted flight schedules.
The background to these events is the severe employment crisis in the industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic: Israel’s privatized airline companies (El Al, Israir, and Arkia) which have already laid off thousands of workers and placed many more on unpaid leave are now seeking additional mass layoffs, the extension of unpaid leaves, as well as changes in the terms of workers’ contracts. The Histadrut claims that there is also concern that the airlines may close certain departments and outsource work in an effort to cut costs.
On Thursday, August 19, airline workers staged a demonstration at the Ben Gurion Airport to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s policy regarding their situation, a stressful work environment, and thousands of laid-off employees. Workers of the Israel Airports Authority, which operates the airport, joined the Thursday’s demonstration in solidarity with the airline workers. From 10:00 to 12:00, hundreds of employees of El Al, Israir, and Arkia halted their work and conducted protests at the airport.