At long last, the government appears ready to take on Israel's biggest unions. At a cabinet meeting Wednesday night, officials of the Justice, Economics, Transportation, and other ministries, along with officials from the Prime Minister's Office, decided to advance legislation that would forbid strikes by workers in industries determined to be essential to the state, including workers of the Israel Electric Company, the seaports and Ben Gurion Airport, hospitals, fire and police, and so on.
The ministers discussed the parameters of the law, emphasizing the need to ensure that the rights of workers were fully respected, as their demands were weighed with the capabilities and needs of the state to keep them working. The officials also reviewed similar laws in force throughout the U.S. and Western Europe.
In most places where such laws are in effect, the government and unions are required to enter into binding arbitration proceedings, where a panel of agreed-upon experts determines how justified the claims of workers are. The contracts are presented for approval by union members, and if they are turned down, the parties return to the negotiating table.
However, workers are expected to continue on their jobs as usual while negotiations are going on – and if they do not, they can be jailed. It is expected that Israel's version of the law will follow the same patterns, the officials at Wednesday night's meeting said.
In the past, the Histadrut, Israel's largest labor union, has vigorously protested adoption of such laws, and has held major protests – and strikes – to prevent the legislation from advancing.