A long-simmering dispute over government funding for the Egged bus company boiled over Wednesday, as thousands of Egged bus drivers protested in Jerusalem outside of the Finance Ministry.
Demonstrators demanded the Finance Ministry immediately transfer subsidies for the nation’s largest bus company and thus ward off delays in the payment of wages to Egged employees.
If the government fails to pay up by next Monday, demonstrators warned, they would strike, bringing the country to a halt for the first time in two decades.
“If the state does not transfer the money [we’ve] demanded by November 7th,” said Avi Edri, chief of the Histadrut labor union’s public transportation division, “we will put all of the Egged bus lines on strike.”
The Egged company has relied heavily on government subsidies since its establishment, relying on annual transfers to cover operating costs and to keep ticket prices down.
Since late 2015, however, company executives have failed to reach an accord with the Finance and Transportation ministries over the signing of a new subsidies agreement.
While the government has provided Egged in recent years with extra funds to enable the company to implement measures intended to cut expenses over the long run, Egged officials are requesting a significant increase in the level of subsidies over the next 18 years.
Egged representatives say a large portion of the increase is needed to fund retirement benefits for an aging workforce. According to a report by Globes, Egged has requested an extra 9 billion shekels ($2.35 billion) in funding over the next 18 years above and beyond the subsidies given to all public transportation companies.
A strike planned in October was delayed due to the Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot holidays, but Histadrut labor union officials insist they will implement the strike if Egged’s demands are not met.
“We’re talking about 6,000 families who won’t have any income next month,” Edri said, referring to the pay furloughs expected if no subsidy agreement is reached.
“This protest is a warning to the Finance and Transportation ministries. We will all come with all our strength and strike, and if someone will try to break our strike, our friends in Dan [a bus company operating primarily along the coast] are just waiting for us to make the call. There’s no way Egged workers won’t be paid.”
Doron Ezra, a representative of Egged workers in the Histadrut, said the union was prepared to bring the country to a halt if no subsidy agreement is signed.
“Next Monday, when we hold this huge strike, the country will be shut down. We won’t let anyone harm the workers or break up the committee. Egged workers haven’t gone on strike for 20 years because they showed responsibility. But right now the Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry way to turn Egged workers into [outsourced], private contract workers – we won’t let that happen.”