Dozens of employees from Israel’s three airlines, El Al, Arkia, and Israir, as well as representatives of the national pilots’ association, held demonstrations in front of the homes of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Friday morning to protest the government’s expected approval of the “Open Skies” agreement with the EU.
The “Open Skies” agreement, meant to lower the cost of air travel by reducing barriers for outside airlines to operate in Israel, was signed with the European Union last July after more than three years of negotiations.
Jerusalem was set to formally approve the deal on Sunday.
The three airlines have threatened to begin a strike on Sunday morning if the government goes through with its approval of the plan. Yigal Cohen, the Arkia worker’s union chairman, called the situation a “battle for survival,” which he blamed on the “devastating and irresponsible decision of the transportation minister… which will throw tens of thousands of workers into the street after the Israeli airline companies collapse.”
“We are not opposed to competition, but we are in favor of equal and fair competition,” Avi Edri, the chairman of the transport workers union, told Channel 2 News.
Edri stressed that he does not want to scrap the entire agreement, but rather to make certain modifications that would protect Israeli carriers. “The minister of transportation promised me personally that he ‘will not harm Israeli airlines.’ Where are his promises from before the elections?”
Lapid came out Friday to meet with the demonstrators, even inviting them into his house to discuss the issues. “There will likely be painful compromises,” he addressed to the gathering mass. “But there is no intention to harm the workers.”
Katz is expected to meet with representatives of the airlines as well as the transport workers union over the weekend in an attempt to stave off the threatened strike.