Israel's Second Largest Bus Company on Strike

Tens of thousands of Israelis were without rides Thursday, as over 1,800 drivers for the Kavim bus company went on strike.

Yaakov Levi,

Bus in Israel
Bus in Israel
Flash 90

Tens of thousands of Israelis in the center of the country were without bus transportation Thursday, as over 1,800 drivers for the Kavim bus company went on strike.

The strike - a “warning action,” union representatives said - would last throughout the end of the service day Thursday, with service resuming only at 4:30 AM Friday.

Several years ago, the “monopoly” of the Egged and Dan bus companies on public transport in Israel was broken with the entry of smaller operators into the bus business.

Routes are now auctioned off to companies, with contracts granted based on the level of service, frequency of buses, etc. Fares generally are set by the national government or local authorities.

Kavim, which is a relatively new company, is currently the second largest bus company in Israel, larger even than Dan, with Kavim taking many of the veteran company's routes in Petach Tikvah, Ra'anana, Rosh Ha'ayin, Or Yehuda, Ramle, Lod, Modi'in, Beitar Ilit, and other towns.

Among the issues, said union officials, were threats and harassment by management against drivers who have joined the union.

Negotiations on a contract have been ongoing since March, the officials said, but meanwhile the company has given preferred slots, overtime, and other perks to non-union drivers.

Work conditions for many of the drivers who have joined worsened, the officials said; for example, union members are not given Friday shifts, which pay up to 200% more per shift than regular hours. In addition, the company has refused to agree to much-needed pay raises for drivers, the union said. 

“Our buses are like ticking time bombs,” one official said. “The low salaries drive good drivers away, generating a shortage of drivers, which means that those who do remain on the job end up working 12, 13 and even 15 hours a day.”

Passengers needed to be aware and management needed to be more careful, the official said of the strike, because they were opening the company up to major liability lawsuits.

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