Hundreds of Arad municipal employees and workers at two factories in the southern city closed roads and demonstrated in the streets Monday morning in protest at mass layoffs at an area plant.
Municipal workers called a general strike and joined laborers from Israel Chemicals Ltd. and the Dead Sea Works in demonstrating at the entrance to Arad.
The protesters voiced outrage over the firing of 140 workers from ICL, and the anticipated firing of hundreds more workers from the Dead Sea Works.
Route 31, the main artery leading into the city, was shut because of the protest.
“Our message is that we’ll continue and fight for our terms and for our right to earn wages with dignity,” Avi, one of the protesters, told Ynet news. “The management wants to fire workers while it earns billions? For what reason?”
Arad Mayor Tali Ploskov, who is running for Knesset with the Kulanu party, voiced support for the strikers and called on ICL’s CEO to forgo 10 percent of his salary to let some workers keep their jobs, the Walla news site reported.
Former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is campaigning on economic reform and seeks to reduce the cost of living for the middle class.
Ploskov, No. 6 on the party list, voiced dismay at the difficult economic situation in southern cities and called on other cities to lend support.
“At the moment, we’re in a socioeconomic catastrophe in the Negev,” she said, referring to Israel’s southern desert region. “People in [the Greater Tel Aviv area] need to understand: Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s them.
“They don’t want to get money from the state,” she said, referring to the workers. “They want to earn with dignity and we must, as a state, give this to them.”
A Dead Sea Works employee expressed consternation and disappointment at the lack of government intervention in the layoffs ahead of the elections. “Prime Minister, shame on you for ignoring the problem, you’re going to pay for this in [Knesset] seats,” Morris Mahfouda, addressing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, told Walla news.
Israel Chemicals responded to the protesters’ complaints by pointing out that roughly half of the southern city of Dimona’s population is directly and indirectly employed by the company, and that “the only question on the agenda today is whether ICL will allow the forceful and aggressive worker’s union to run the factories,” or whether the management would be able to carry out efficiency measures.
It said that in 2014 ICL posted NIS 160 million in losses, and a total of NIS 1.5 billion since 2007.
Later on Monday, the Finance Ministry’s legal advisor Yoel Briss sent a letter to ICL CEO Stefan Borgas asking for clarification on the company’s firing of 140 employees in light of the government’s right to veto company decisions that hurt the state’s interests.
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