Hundreds of workers from a chemical company in the northern city of Haifa on Thursday blocked traffic on a main junction in Tel Aviv in protest of the expected loss of some 1,500 jobs when the ammonia factory that employs them closes down.
The High Court of Justice was scheduled to rule later in the day on a government request, submitted Wednesday, to issue another injunction to further delay the court-ordered closure of the facility.
The protesters called on Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin to find a solution that would avoid mass layoffs.
“The lack of a solution will lead to the firing of thousands of workers on the periphery [of the country],” said Yehuda Peretz, chair of Haifa Chemicals South.
In its request to the court, the government asked that the emptying of the ammonia storage facility owned by Haifa Chemicals, slated to be carried out this month, be delayed until June in order to allow fertilizer companies that rely on the ammonia sufficient time to prepare for the tank’s closure and prevent “a possible shutdown of the fertilizer industry in Israel.”
The request came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Monday with Elkin and Economy Minister Eli Cohen, as well as representatives of other government ministries, and asked them to consider keeping the massive tank operating for another two years until an alternative is found, according to documents submitted to the court.
Following reports on Monday about the new postponement request, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav accused Netanyahu of endangering the lives of Haifa area residents.
Local officials, led by Yahav, say that tens of thousands of people could die if the 12,000-ton-capacity tank should rupture, and that even more would be at risk if a monthly delivery ship that brings ammonia to the massive tank from abroad is hit by a missile.
Netanyahu’s office clarified in a statement on Monday that the delay that was discussed was for a number of weeks, not two years, and was aimed at finding a solution to avoid the mass layoffs.