El Al Airlines
El Al AirlinesIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Workers at Israel's airlines plan to strike beginning Sunday. The strike is in protest over the decision by the government to discuss full implementation of the “Open Skies” policy, which would significantly increase the number of foreign carriers permitted to fly to Israel.

Workers at the airlines – El Al, Arkia, and Israir - fear for their jobs, as the purpose of the Open Skies policy is to increase competition on popular routes, such as to New York, London, and other European destinations. The Histadrut labor union is backing the strike. In a statement, the Histadrut said it believed Israelis would support the strike. “Israeli citizens will not support a deal that will sacrifice the incomes of thousands of families just to please foreign carriers.”

Israel had been set to sign an Open Skies agreement with the European Union last December, but the move was postponed because of the elections. The deal was completed last July, with seven new flights per week to a gradually increasing number of popular European destinations added each year, and more flights to major hub cities. Critics of the deal say that Israeli carriers will be overwhelmed by cheap fares, and that Ben Gurion Airport, which is not large enough to handle major international traffic, will be inundated with flights.

At an emergency meeting Thursday, union officials said that the deal does not provide protection for workers, and gives the European carriers numerous advantages over the Israeli carriers. The Histadrut is demanding suspension of the Open Skies policy until Israeli carriers have the same opportunity to choose routes as the foreign carriers are, and that the government alleviate security costs for Israeli airlines in order to enable them to be more competitive.