Attempting to bypass union, Israel rail company to split up

Attempting to bypass union, Israel rail company to split up

Transportation minister announces new plan, union head calls it ‘reckless’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

The Israel Railway company will be split into three smaller companies,  Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced Monday, angering labor leaders who had already been threatening to strike.

The state-run rail company and the workers union have been at odds for months over labor conditions and contracts. Tensions between the two ramped up in February following a wildcat strike by the union and a deal signed by the rail company to outsource maintenance work to Canadian company Bombardier.

In the announcement Monday, Katz said negotiations with the labor unions have reached a dead-end, and that he intends to do his job and improve transport services in Israel — in this case by changing the structure of the Israeli rail company and splitting it into three smaller ones.

Histadrut labor federation head Ofer Eini called Katz “reckless” for the move.

Katz said the new companies would have different fields of responsibilities. One company will be in charge of maintenance, the second responsible for business development, and the third company will deal with leasing the tracks to companies looking to move cargo around the country.

Katz explained the move was necessitated by a loggerhead in talks with the union.

A passenger train belonging to the Israel Railways company (photo credit: Hilla Gutrayman/Flash90)
A passenger train belonging to the Israel Railways company (photo credit: Hilla Gutrayman/Flash90)

“There are no negotiations,” Katz said, explaining that talks between the rail and the union have been ongoing for more than eighteen months. “It is the workers union who refused to compromise.”

Katz added that if workers choose to break the law as they protest the decision, the ministry “will disband the train company and reopen it.”

Eini said the move proved Katz wasn’t looking to reach an agreement, but rather wage war on the train union and rail employees.

Eini said that he was part of the intense negotiations with the Transportation Ministry over the past couple of weeks, and that much progress had been made though no agreement was reached. He said Katz’s move was “reckless” and “irresponsible,” both toward the workers and toward the entire population of Israel.

MK Dov Khenin voiced concern following the announcement, telling Channel 2 news such a step was the start of a process that would privatize the rail services in Israel. Such a move would harm everyone, he warned.

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