Histadrut chief backs punished rail workers with strike threat

A strike could spread to air and sea ports.

Histadrut (General federation of Labor in Israel) chairman Ofer Eini has rallied to the side of the rail workers and of suspended Israel railways workers committee chair Gila Edri. Eini announced last night that if the steps taken against the workers suspended and fired yesterday were not rescinded, a general strike on the railways would begin on Tuesday. In addition, the Histadrut chairman plans to announce a labor dispute in the entire transport industry, including the ports, unless a solution to the crisis at Israel Railways is found through negotiation.

Apart from the air and sea ports, the Transport Workers Union also covers El Al and the other Israeli airlines, bus companies Dan and Egged, the Jerusalem Light Rail, shipping line Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., and other entities.

Besides the hearing for Edri, the Israel Railways Management also held disciplinary hearings for Israel Railways workers who assaulted company CEO Boaz Zafrir when he visited the company's premises at Lod. The hearing was held in the absence of the workers concerned, after the Histadrut instructed them not to appear, following the hearing held for Edri.

The decision of the disciplinary committee was that four workers would be suspended for six months and receive letters warning of dismissal; two workers were suspended for four months, and they too received warning letters; two other workers were dismissed, one for a long record of disciplinary offences, the other for attempting to injure the CEO while mounted on a motorcycle.

Eini said in this context, "What happened today amounts to crossing a red line. This is a very dangerous step, in which, during a legitimate union campaign, workers are summoned to disciplinary committees on various strange pretexts and are ultimately even dismissed from their jobs. Workers cannot carry on campaigns in this way. For any workers organization of any kind, this is a step beyond the red line in labor relations."

Israel Railways management said in a statement, "The Histadrut's instruction to workers not to appear before the disciplinary committees is a step that undermines the rule of law and represents contempt of court. We regret that the Histadrut has been dragged into defending the workers committee representatives at any price, even when the committee encourages an assault on the company's CEO.

"Israel Railways applies and will apply a policy of zero tolerance towards violence, certainly towards physical violence that can endanger human life. We will uproot any element of a culture of violence in Israel Railways that is used as a means of intimidating and threatening workers and managers at the company with the sole aim of controlling and running the company according to the wishes of the workers committee representatives."

Earlier yesterday, it was decided to suspend workers committee chair Gila Edri from her post for three months, and to restore her to it only on condition that she ceases to threaten company employees. This followed complaints by four senior managers of verbal abuse directed at them.

Israel Railways workers committee sources claim that the Israel Railways management insisted on holding this hearing and punishing Edri severely in order to provoke her into calling a wildcat strike that would justify the planned privatization measures in the railway maintenance division, and would perhaps even lead to Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz carrying out his threat to shut down the company in its present format and reconstitute it.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 26, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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