Close to 8,000 Israeli households remained without power Tuesday morning — two full days after a storm pummeled the country with strong winds and heavy rain. Meanwhile, new findings showed that Israel Electric Corporation workers deliberately dragged their feet in the wake of the storm over an ongoing labor dispute.
The IEC’s management petitioned the National Labor Court Sunday night to order its employees to work in emergency mode after it discovered that some employees were purposely keeping to their usual shift hours despite the storm, apparently at the instruction of the union. Management further opted not to immediately notify state regulators of the labor dispute on Sunday, despite the fact that nearly 200,000 households had already been without power for hours, the financial daily The Marker reported Tuesday, citing Labor Court records.
A number of reports in recent days indicated that disgruntled IEC employees were taking their time repairing broken power lines to signal their discontent over management’s moves to streamline the state-owned corporation. The report said that the workers union also barred maintenance employees from moving about the country in order to assist other employees in their efforts to repair broken power lines.
The National Labor Court ruled that for 72 hours, or as long as the weather conditions dictate work in emergency mode, the employees and the company’s management had to set aside their differences and refrain from pursuing their dispute at the expense of the public.
The IEC, Israel’s sole electricity company, has been mired in a labor dispute for months and critics charge that it was not prepared for the severe weather conditions.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz faulted the IEC for failing to promptly fix the downed power lines in an interview with Channel 2 Monday evening, and called the situation “a very grave incident that must not be repeated.”
“This saddens me greatly, and I think the union made a huge mistake,” he said. “This is a grave mistake, from an ethical standpoint as well.”
Steinitz added that once the power grids were repaired, an investigation should be opened into the IEC’s handling of the situation.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also lashed out at the IEC, suggesting that a privatization of the company would benefit the citizens of Israel.
“An excess of regulatory intervention, the opposition of workers and an unwillingness among the political leadership to carry out reforms and make decisions. What is the result? A third world country,” Katz said in a statement Tuesday.
On Sunday, one person was killed and 20 more injured as high winds and heavy rain battered the country, knocking down trees and a crane in central Israel, and flooding roads in the south. The rain is expected to continue sporadically throughout the week.