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Bus drivers strike in escalating dispute with Transportation Ministry

Hundreds of drivers hold protest between 6 and 9 a.m. in Jerusalem and other major cities

Illustrative: Kavim bus drivers demonstrate against violence directed at them, near the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Kavim bus drivers demonstrate against violence directed at them, near the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Massive traffic disruptions were expected across Israel on Sunday morning, as hundreds of bus drivers went on strike as part of an ongoing protest for better working conditions.

“The country will burn with the biggest driver strike it has ever known,” their union warned in a statement.

Drivers from a number of companies, including Afikim, Extra, Tnufah, Dan Beersheba and Beit Shemesh Express, were striking from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., during rush hour at the start of the work week.

The drivers say they are striking because Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli has refused to meet with them and discuss their demands.

The Organization of Israeli Bus Drivers have said there is a shortage of 5,000 drivers, and drivers are working double shifts to earn sufficient wages. It also said many drivers suffer attacks and abuse from passengers, an issue that is not being addressed.

The drivers have held more limited strikes over the past several weeks, with Sunday’s nationwide strike at rush hour marking an escalation of their protest.

The drivers union said Michaeli has refused to raise their wages and is “endangering the lives of drivers and passengers.” It also said the Transportation Ministry has not responded to its request to hire new drivers or provided them with sufficient security.

Michaeli said she announced new allocations for bus operators on Thursday, after the Finance Ministry repeatedly refused her requests for funds. She also said she and the ministry had already allocated NIS 220 million ($64 million) for training and improving drivers’ conditions.

The cities affected by the strike include Jerusalem, Netanya, Ashdod, Petah Tikva, Bnei Brak, Beersheba and part of the West Bank, plus service to Ben Gurion International Airport.

Since it is the start of the work week, soldiers across the country will need to return to their bases after a weekend break at home. The military has instructed some soldiers to return to base later than usual.

Separately, the Teachers Union ended a national strike on Friday, returning to classrooms after two full days of canceled classes that caused major disruptions for working parents.

The government is in the process of dissolving itself, and will likely complete the process on Monday, making it mostly unable to pass any major new legislation.

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