Large swaths of Israel’s economy slowly returned to business on Sunday afternoon after a “solidarity” strike over pharmaceutical giant Teva’s plan to lay off some 1,750 Israeli employees shut down the public sector across the country for four hours.
On Sunday morning, Teva employees gathered outside the pharmaceutical company’s offices in Jerusalem, in the coastal cities of Netanya and Ashdod, and in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva, in demonstrations that coincided with a morning strike that shuttered Israel’s airports, banks, and government offices.
The strike — the largest labor action to hit the country in several years — closed down down nearly all parts of the public sector from 8 a.m. to midday.
Banks, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, post offices, government offices, the Knesset, ports, airports, insurance companies, the courts, banks, post offices, phone companies, Israel Electric Corporation, health services, universities, local municipalities and regional councils were all closed on Sunday morning, along with Teva facilities across the country.
While most sectors returned to work at noon, ports were set to remain closed until 2:00 p.m.
The company’s restructuring plan, announced last week, will see the firing of 14,000 Teva workers worldwide over the next two years, more than a quarter of Teva’s global workforce of over 55,000.
In Jerusalem, protesters blocked traffic as they began walking from the company’s two factories — both threatened with closure — in the Har Hotzvim industrial area towards the Prime Minister’s Office. Police said protesters had set tires on fire, which were quickly extinguished.
The main road into the capital was temporarily blocked by protesters, but was soon reopened.
Demonstrators in Petah Tikva also blocked traffic on the main Jabotinsky thoroughfare.
In Ashdod, workers set tires on fire outside the Teva offices.
With most schools off for the Hanukkah holiday, several museums which are normally popular during the holiday were also closed on Sunday morning, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Eretz Israel Museum and Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
At the country’s main Ben Gurion international airport, seven flights were canceled and many others moved up to avoid the strike. Service started up again at the airport at noon, with flights expected to resume around 2:30 p.m.
Public transportation was not affected by the strike. The Histadrut labor union chief Avi Nissenkorn said this was to avoid inconveniencing IDF soldiers returning to their military bases after the weekend.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Teva CEO Kare Schultz to discuss the planned layoffs.
“I spoke with [Teva CEO Kare Schultz] last week and told him that our main goal first and foremost is to minimize the damage to workers,” said Netanyahu. “The second thing is of course to do everything to prevent the closure of factories in Jerusalem.”
He also said it was of utmost importance that Teva remain in Israel.
“[Teva] has thousands of workers, it was established as an Israeli company and we want it to remain an Israeli company,” he said. “We will use all the different means at our disposal in order to try and achieve these goals.”
Both Netanyahu and Kahlon have said they intended to meet with Schultz when he visits Israel.
The solidarity strike was called by the powerful Histadrut trade union following an announcement by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries last week that it would slash its work force in Israel by about a quarter as part of a large reorganization plan to save the ailing pharma giant.
Nissenkorn said Saturday evening the strike is meant to send a “clear message” the union would not accept the layoffs of Israeli workers.
“We are fighting for the workers of Teva, to save the industry in Israel and to support blue and white,” said Nissenkorn. “Organized labor has been enlisted and is sending a clear message.”
Teva has been saddled with debt after its $40 billion acquisition of the generics arm of rival Allergan was completed last year.
The acquisition has been accompanied by low prices for generics, particularly in the United States, a major market.
Teva expects to save $3 billion by the end of 2019 with the two-year restructuring plan.
According to Histadrut, Teva has received $6.2 billion in tax reductions since 2006.