Israeli airlines winter schedules still under threat

El Al, photo: Sivan Farag

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is no longer willing to employ flight security staff for the Israeli airlines.

If you are planning to book a flight on an Israeli airline in 2019, be aware that it might be canceled. As reported in "Globes" the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' is threatening to stop employing the security employees (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Overseas Employees Association) of the Israeli airlines based at airports worldwide. The threats are close to being carried out and concern is growing as the winter season approaches.

The security department of El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) is responsible for the security of flights by all three Israeli airlines: El Al (including Sun d'Or), Arkia Airlines Ltd., and Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd.. Before every season, the three airlines unveil their schedule of flights from their  destinations and security personnel are deployed to receive the passengers at the foreign airports. The Ministry of Finance through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pays for most of the security expenses as the employer of the security personnel - the representatives that the passengers meet when they get on the plane in the overseas airports.

In effect, these workers are employed by El Al in the sense that El Al places them in airports, arranges their work schedule, etc., but they are actually employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and this is significant - and requires a special work permit that includes the ability to move between countries and between airports, and especially the ability to select workers according to the security conditions dictated by the Israel Security Agency.

In other words, the state is financing security for the Israeli airlines overseas, while one state agency dictates the conditions required by the security situation in the various countries and another state agency employes the workers. This status quo has now been brought into question.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs director general Yuval Rotem has already sent several letters to El Al and all those responsible for the matter. The most recent letter on the subject, sent late last week, was addressed to National Security Council deputy head Eytan Ben-David (now National Security Council head). In this letter, as in earlier letters, Rotem emphasizes that starting in January 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer employ the security workers for the benefit of the Israeli airlines.

"As I have warned continually and consistently," Rotem wrote, "We oppose continuation of the arrangement whereby employment of aviation workers takes place through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Israel's overseas representative offices) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Overseas Employees Association) after 2018. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot and should not be the party employing Israeli aviation security workers at El Al stations. It causes ever-increasing diplomatic, legal, and management exposure and runs against the usually practice in diplomatic relations and with foreign countries."

Rotem states, "There are already alternative employment arrangements taking place at most of the stations. These should be expanded to both the existing stations and in countries in which this has not hitherto been done." Rotem was probably referring to outsourcing of local workers, who account for a rather small proportion of all overseas employees in flight security of the Israeli airlines.

The stance taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is justifiably disturbing El Al's security department. El Al chairperson Eli Defes previously sent Ben-David a letter warning, "Without these workers, the flight security apparatus cannot exist… Any solution requires thorough consideration and a great deal of difficult preparation, which is likely to vary from one country to another." Defes is referring, for example, to the employment of flight security workers through outsourcing or directly in the airlines. This means that consular restrictions are liable to apply to those workers (in moving them from one country to another, for example). Problems in implementing local laws are also liable to arise, such as a ban on employment discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin. As of now, according to the rules set by the ISA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs only Jews in aviation security for the Israeli airlines.

In his most recent letter, Rotem mentions that his position was taken 18 months before the beginning of the season, and the airlines should therefore make preparations. The person responsible for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also expressed similar views in the past, including before the current season. The problem was solved at the time through an allocation of addition security job positions by the Ministry of Finance and a decision that El Al's security department would fund the employment of two legal consultants responsible for issues involving labor law for the 1,200 security employees distributed among the various stations around the world.

In 2017, the Ministry of Finance paid NIS 825 million in security costs, NIS 75 million more than in 2016, as a result of increased aviation activity and activity at new destinations. The state has paid hundreds of millions of shekels in grants to foreign airlines operating flights from new destinations with potential for increasing tourism to Israel. In view of the embarrassing situation that has been created, the Israeli airlines have solid grounds for feeling discriminated against if a solution is not found soon. Without security workers, the Israeli airlines will be unable to fly to airports around the world. The foreign airlines will benefit because the wave of passengers flying overseas is constantly increasing and shows no sign of coming to a halt.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 12, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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El Al, photo: Sivan Farag
El Al, photo: Sivan Farag
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