Aviation workers’ labor strike disrupts flights in and out of country

Employees protest plan to cut hundreds of jobs from Israel Airports Authority workforce; sides agree to resume operations after several hours

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Travelers in the departures hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 5, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Travelers in the departures hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 5, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Flights in and out of the country were disrupted for several hours Thursday as aviation workers launched a strike during which they interrupted luggage handling and service to planes.

The strike began in the morning at Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main international terminus. Flights at Ramon Airport in the south of the country, Israel’s second international terminus, had also been set to face major delays starting at 2 p.m.

At around midday, the Israel Airports Authority released a statement saying that under the auspices of a labor court, the workers agreed to return work and that negotiations between the sides will be held over the coming 12 days. During that time the workers agreed to not take any unilateral action, the IAA said.

There would be delays until workers fully restarted operations at Ben Gurion, the IAA warned.

Around 25,000 travelers were due to pass through Ben Gurion on Thursday, including 10,000 on outbound flights, Hebrew media reported.

The workers were protesting a plan by the IAA to cut 350 permanent jobs from its workforce due to a reduction in flights brought on by travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Histradut national labor federation had declared a work dispute over the issue.

On Tuesday workers from the national carrier, El Al, tried to hamper Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s departure to Washington, where he is due to meet with US President Joe Biden on Thursday. The demonstration was held despite the Histadrut agreeing to not delay the flight and the workers eventually dispersed before Bennett arrived, causing only a slight delay in the proceedings.

Thursday’s action came after aviation employees held a two-hour strike at Ben Gurion last week, blocking runways to stop flights taking off and refusing to unload planes that landed.

That protest was against government rules that have cut down the number of passengers, slashing plane bookings amid a crisis resulting from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year.

Thousands have been fired from the industry and thousands more who were put on unpaid leave have yet to return to their jobs, according to the Israel Transport Workers Union, which is part of the Histadrut labor federation.

The strike last Thursday was prompted by recent health regulations mandating that arrivals from most countries quarantine for a week, which prompted a wave of cancellations.

Under the current restrictions, there are only 10 countries from which vaccinated or COVID-19 recovered Israelis are able to return without having to quarantine fully for seven days, and instead only isolate until receiving a negative test result.

Those countries are: Austria, Australia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Taiwan, Moldova, New Zealand, China, Singapore and the Czech Republic. But most of those locations are not allowing tourists to enter.

After driving down infections to barely more than a dozen new cases each day in June, Israel has faced a resurgence of COVID-19 infections that saw 8,800 cases diagnosed on Wednesday. The wave has been blamed on the highly contagious Delta variant, brought into the country by travelers who did not properly quarantine.

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