The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), has announced that it will begin a general strike a week from Sunday if the Finance Ministry does not meet its demands on the minimum wage and other issues.
Histadrut chairman Avi Nissankoren said “There is one address: the finance minister, and he has the power to decide whether we will be increasing the minimum wage, reducing poverty, and improving the conditions of contract workers. The Finance Ministry is doing everything it can to change the subject of the conversation,” he claimed and continued: “If this issue is not resolved, the Histadrut will fight; and we will fight without compromise.”
Negotiations are resuming between the Ministry of Finance, the Histadrut, and the employers’ organizations, following a three-way meeting between Minister of Finance Yair Lapid, Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn, and president of the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel Zvika Oren. This meeting follows an earlier announcement by the Histadrut that it will call for a general strike starting on Sunday, December 7 in support of its demands for increasing the minimum wage from NIS 4,300 to NIS 5,300 per month and restricting the use of contract workers.
At the end of the meeting, a spokesperson for the Histadrut said, “It is premature to speak of progress. The threat of a strike still exists.” The Ministry of Finance announced, “It was agreed to continue discussions in small work groups, which will hold their first meeting tonight.” Neo-liberal Lapid said that he saw no reason at the moment for a general strike, which would harm “both the public and the economy.” Lapid pointed out that the economy is currently recovering from Israel’s very expensive and brutal Operation Protective Edge, and stated, “A strike now is irresponsible on the national level.” According to Globes, an Israeli business newspaper, one of the participants at the meeting remarked that Nissenkorn was afraid that a general strike would renew the initiative for legislation banning strikes in essential services.
Lapid, who was accompanied to the meeting by Ministry of Finance Director General Yael Andorn and Director of Wages Kobi Amsalem, repeated that he is ready to raise the minimum wage significantly, provided that this does not breach “the budget’s framework.” Between 2006 and 2012, the monthly minimum wage has been incremented a number of times, from NIS 3,585 until the current figure of NIS 4,300. Hadash is now demanding that the minimum wage be raised to 30 NIS an hour, or NIS 5,300 a month. According to Hadash, “Taking into account the cumulative amount of inflation during the past eight years and the growth in labor productivity since 2006, the minimum wage has fallen substantially. While an exact calculation needs to be based on the actual increase in labor productivity during those years, it is nevertheless clear that employers’ profits have risen during this period at the expense of the working class.”
Hadash MK Dov Khenin, who has proposed a bill to raise the minimum wage to NIS 30 an hour from the current NIS 24, praised the Histadrut’s move, and said that achieving a significant increase in the minimum wage would require increasing public pressure on the Knesset. A Bank of Israel study released on Wednesday found that Israeli wages rose on par with most OECD countries during the past 20 years. Though wages have returned to the growth trend of the ‘90s, they spiked from 1999 to 2001 and then crashed, and have yet to fully recover. “As for the labor share in GDP, Israel is not all that different from other OECD members, both in terms of its level and in terms of its decline over the past 15 years,” the report said.