A bid by rail workers to once again shut down passenger train service across the country has been stayed for two weeks, thanks to an agreement forged in the National Labor Court.
Rail workers appeared before the court Monday in an attempt to win approval for a strike. However, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini agreed to postpone the strike for two weeks while the parties engaged in negotiations.
The workers are angry over a management deal that will outsource maintenance work to a Canadian company. Dozens of rail workers are demonstrating outside the court house in support of their petition.
The outsourcing deal, which was announced on Sunday and has the blessing of the Transportation Ministry, will see train manufacturer Bombardier take on the maintenance of 132 railroad cars instead of local employees.
In response, rail employees on Sunday night demanded that Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court allow the workers to begin striking Monday. Rail workers had earlier applied for permission to engage in work sanctions after failing to reach an understanding with management over maintenance of the cars.
The Histadrut labor federation and the rail workers’ union both reacted strongly to news of the outsourcing agreement, saying that the Israel Railways’ board had acted in bad faith, “in secret, like a thief in the night,” by not first notifying them about the deal with Bombardier. In their petition the workers asked the court to annul the deal, as well as make public its details. In their request the disgruntled workers stressed their urgency was brought about because the management was trying to lay down facts on the ground.
In an interview with Army Radio about the dispute, Katz criticized the rail workers and declared that, if necessary, he would shut down Israel Railways.
“If a series of wildcat strikes start and a situation arises in which the railway is not able to fulfill its role, then I won’t hesitate to close it down and then reopen later on,” Katz said.
He suggested that the real motive for the dispute was a power struggle over control of the railway.
“This is an attempt by the workers’ committee to take control by preventing the railway from developing and fulfilling its role,” he said, stating that the agreement with Bombadier was signed because train cars were not being maintained as they should be.
Eini told Israel Radio that even if the court approved a strike, he was prepared to delay a walkout if negotiations continued.
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