A senior far-right coalition lawmaker submitted legislation on Tuesday aimed at restricting the right of workers to launch labor strikes. The legislation was submitted by Simcha Rothman, of the racist Religious Zionism party, who serves as chair of the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee and has been a key player leading the government’s efforts to significantly restrict the power of the High Court of Justice.
School’s workers demonstration in central Tel-Aviv, November 2022 (Photo: Histadrut)
Rothman’s bill specifically targets the right to strike of workers in the national electricity, education water, ports, public transportation and health fields, along with the Israeli Stock Exchange and the Bank of Israel. The legislation would strip protections from a labor union that strikes in solidarity with a cause that does not directly impact their line of work.
The law also blocks workers from announcing a labor dispute due to Knesset’s legislation or the repercussions of the far-right government actions made in its “governing capacity,” unless these directly affect the workers’ terms of employment; repeals the requirement for all employees in a given workplace to join a union if just a third of other employees are members; gives workers the freedom not to join a union and not to be part of a collective salary agreement; requires funds collected by worker’s unions to be spent only on “work relations” and on behalf of the workers; and more.
Rothman’s bill also obliges the Histadrut and other labor unions like Koah La’Ovdim (“Power to the Workers”) to hold mediation through the Labor Ministry or the government’s National Economic Council before launching a strike. Under the legislation, the Knesset would be granted the ability to suspend a strike after 30 days in vaguely defined extenuating circumstances, including “harm to the national economy or significant disruption to public livelihood.”
“In recent weeks, I have received many inquiries, both from lawyers and attorneys in the public sector, members of professional organizations, who tell us, ‘We support the reform, but the head of the organization came to us and told us to stop working because he opposes the government policy,'” said Rothman to YNET website.
Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David issued a statement asserting that the bill would not pass. Bar-David slammed the bill as an “attempt by extremist elements to weaken the status of the working class in Israel and erode one of the fundamental socio-economic rights of democracy,” adding that “exercising the right to strike is one of the main tools to protect the disadvantaged populations in the economy, and I will not allow any element to harm the workers. I knew how to stand up to this delusional threat in the past, and I do not propose to try us this time.”
The bill was blasted by Rothman’s immediate predecessor in the Constitution Law and Justice Committee, Labor MK Gilad Kariv, who claimed it is “only phase one of a long-term plan” to place the conservative Kohelet Forum think tank in control of the country, “where every man is for himself.”
According Hadash, “The Netanyahu-Rothman government wants to turn workers into slaves. They want to take the most basic rights away from us, rights that workers in the western world enjoy, our most basic rights – working hours, vacation days, sick days, study funds, pensions – all of this they want to take away from us by canceling the right to strike and the right to organize.” Amidst Hadash demands, the Histadrut leadership has thus far refrained from joining the protests against the far-right government, speculating that the country’s largest union doesn’t want to pick a fight with the coalition before it finalizes a new wage agreement for public sector workers.