Since the outbreak of the great Carmel fire on Thursday, everyone has been asking how it could have been prevented. The Fire and Rescue Services has the answer. There, without equivocation, they immediately said that the Ministry of Finance was to blame. How could they not? It always sounds good and logical, and it always sticks. They explain the failure as a coterie of "the boys from the Treasury" who shoved through reforms, blocked money transfers, making them conditional on restructuring, including, in this case, foregoing the right to strike - a change that the firefighters considered unacceptable.
Before pointing an accusing finger, a little reminder: all the committees that reviewed the matter recommended that the Fire and Rescue Services should be a nationwide system, with government employees. All that the Ministry of Finance asked was to make the firefighters' status equal to that of Israel Police officers, Israel Prison Service officers, and IDF career officers and NCOs, none of whom have the right to strike. There is no reason why firefighters should have the right to strike if police and correctional officers do not. What's the difference between them?
Except for the fact that a firefighter in Netanya or Haifa earns, on average, more than NIS 17,000, while a correctional officer in the same area earns an average of NIS 11,000, there are no great differences. It isn't hard to guess why such salary differentials emerged, either. They did not emerge because firefighters are more important than police officers or take greater risks, nor because there are more fires than robberies and murders. The right to strike is the answer.
The Ministry of Finance cannot allow itself to turn firefighters into state employees while allowing them to keep their right to strike, while police and correctional officers have lower pay and no such right.
That is precisely the job of the Ministry of Finance: to look at the big picture and ensure the proper functioning of the organization in detail and of the public sector as a whole. Otherwise, bigger budgets will be worthless.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 5, 2010
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