The Histradrut, Israel's powerful General Federation of Labor in Israel, criticized on Monday Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz for hinting he may shut down Israel Railways entirely to reroganize it.
Katz's veiled threat came just 24 hours before a deadline imposed by Israel's labor courts for an agreement between the management and workers over structural reforms.
"Today, the minister of transport took a step that amounts to pure anarchy and irresponsibility of the worst kind towards Israel railways workers and the travelling public, all the while misleading the public and making statements with no basis in fact," The Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said.
"The minister of transport never reached agreement with me. Over the past few weeks, in full cooperation with the Israel Railways workers committee, I conducted intensive negotiations with Israel Railways management and Ministry of Finance representatives. There was substantial progress in the negotiations, but in no way was there an agreement, certainly not with the minister of transport. So all the statements to the effect that I reached an agreement with him and the workers committee torpedoed it are absolute nonsense and are the minister's sole responsibility.
"Yisrael Katz has decided to engineer a provocation in the middle of ongoing negotiations that are making progress. This is something unprecedented, the like of which I find hard to recall in labor relations in recent years. Katz is apparently not looking for an agreement but war with the workers for the sake of war. He wants to tempt them into a strike in order to make them look bad in the eyes of the public and to score points.
"The Histadrut has no intention of falling into Katz's trap. It will rather behave responsibly for the benefit of rail passengers and workers. I call on the minister to retract his hasty and irresponsible decision and to continue negotiations in order to reach an agreement, so as not to escalate labor relations and cause harm to the citizens of Israel. Should that happen, the responsibility will lie with him alone,” Eini added.
The worker's union, the Histadrut, the Finance Ministry and the railways management were given two weeks to sort out their differences following a series of strikes by employees.
The Finance Ministry offered to give employees a raise of 20% instead of 12%, in exchange for a prolonged period without labor sanctions, increased management flexibility and individual contracts for top management.
In exchange, the Histadrut agreed to include some subcontract employees in the agreement for a specific array of operations to be outsourced. However, the two sides remain deadlocked over who will perform future train car maintenance.
Katz's comments early Monday that he might reject any agreement presented to him are rooted in Israel Railway's poor financial showing. It has revenues of NIS 140 million a year, but typically loses NIS 20 million to NIS 30 million per annum.
The Histadrut has staged numerous disruptions of Israel's economy in recent months, including threats to shut down Israel's civil aviation sector, throwing Israel's hospitals into crisis with a nurse's walkout, and shutting down social services across the nation.
Previous strikes – especially those staged at Israel’s ports – have been described as “extortion on a national scale” by critics of the Histadrut.