Court to hear arguments on port privatization legality

In response to a petition filed by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce challenging the legality of looming strikes at Israel’s ports, the National Labor Court on Thursday said it would hold an informal meeting between the FICC, government, ports and the Histadrut labor federation on Sunday. If the sides do not come to an agreement, the court would open a formal hearing into the matter and rule on the issue of legality itself.

In response to government plans to privatize the sea ports by introducing private ports in Ashdod and Haifa, the Histadrut declared a labor dispute in mid-July, which set the legal stage for a strike starting on Tuesday. The FICC responded by filing a petition to the National Labor Court, arguing that “the nature of the reforms precluded the Histadrut from striking.” Because the reforms “did not seek to renegotiate wages or working conditions, but simply add infrastructure to compete with the heavily unionized existing ports,” the FICC protested that the Histadrut had no grounds to call a strike.

Ashdod Port (Photo: Israel Ports Authority)

The Histadrut claimed that building private ports would significantly affect the financial standing of the existing ports, and that the reforms were enacted without including it in negotiation. “The issue of port reforms is an issue that has been in process since 2003,” the Histadrut wrote in its rejoinder to the court. “Now there is an attempt to carry out reform at the port in a unilateral fashion. Previous agreements on reforms had laid out promises to ensure the livelihoods and work conditions of the workers, it added.” If the privatization succeed in moving ahead, it continued, they will constitute “one of the gravest and most harmful blows to the rights of organized labor in Israel and to organized labor itself.”

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