Jerusalem says it will lay off ‘hundreds of workers’ if budget crisis continues
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Jerusalem says it will lay off ‘hundreds of workers’ if budget crisis continues

Municipality warns of widespread cuts to education, sanitation and social services as citywide strike deepens, garbage piles up

  • People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Jerusalem municipality, in Central Jerusalem, on January 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem municipality said Tuesday that it may be forced to lay off “hundreds of workers” and shut down “dozens of classrooms” if a solution is not found to a standoff between the city and the Finance Ministry over unpaid wages, as a citywide strike over the issue entered its third day.

Municipal services have ground to a near halt in the city since Sunday, when the municipality announced the general strike over the Finance Ministry’s failure to transfer a one-off grant of NIS 800 million ($211 million) to supplement its normal annual budget.

In addition to a cessation of municipal services such as garbage collection, welfare and social services, municipal daycare centers were shuttered across Jerusalem on Tuesday, although programs for special needs children continued normally.

On Monday, Jerusalem high schools and middle schools started at 10 a.m. and kindergarten afternoon programs were canceled altogether.

Jerusalem's City Hall (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Jerusalem’s City Hall (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

In response to the continuing standoff, the municipality issued a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday in regards to the Finance Ministry’s “war on Jerusalem,” in which it detailed the drastic steps it will take if the dispute is not solved.

“The municipality will be forced to close dozens of classrooms that the municipality rents for NIS 100 million ($26 million),” the statement said, “forcing students to stay home.”

In addition to large cuts to educational services, the municipality said it will also be forced to lay off “hundreds of sanitation workers,” which will deal a “grave blow to cleaning services in the city.”

The municipality also said that it will be forced to implement widespread budget cuts to welfare services, including programs for the elderly, the blind, former drug users and at risk youth, among others.

In the statement, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said any layoffs or cuts to municipal services made as a result of the continued standoff would be the fault of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

“The refusal of the Finance Ministry to transfer the funds that were promised to Jerusalem will lead to fatal damage to Israel’s capital,” Barkat said, adding that “this would be the direct responsibility of the finance minister.”

Jerusalem Municipality workers together with Mayor Nir Barkat (C) protest in front of the Ministry of Finance office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2017, against the delay in transfer of yearly budget from Finance Ministry. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Municipality workers together with Mayor Nir Barkat (C) protest in front of the Ministry of Finance office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2017, against the delay in transfer of yearly budget from Finance Ministry. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite Barkat’s claims, the Finance Ministry maintains the lack of funds is a result of mismanagement, and asked Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to appoint a city accountant to stop the municipality from holding Jerusalem residents “hostage to foreign interests.”

In response, the municipality bitterly denied the accusations of mismanagement under Barkat and accused the treasury of waging a dishonest media campaign.

“We are sorry that the Finance Ministry uses lying media spin instead of strengthening the city. The challenges of the capital are the challenges of the country,” the municipality statement said.

“In contradiction to the lies of the Finance Ministry, throughout the entire Barkat era the municipality has never been in deficit and it even earned prizes from the Interior Ministry for the proper use of its finances and its transparent conduct.”

On Tuesday, the Yerushalmim faction announced that it would leave the municipality’s governing coalition over the closure of municipal daycare centers during the strike. In a Facebook post, the faction called the closure “illegal and immoral,” and accused Barkat of “forgetting that he is supposed to work for Jerusalem” and not the other way around.

Barkat’s office said in a statement that the departure of Yerushalmim would have no effect on the coalition’s ability to function, adding that “it is unfortunate that Kahlon’s operatives in the city prioritize their small political interest over supporting Jerusalem.” MK Rachel Azaria, who currently is a member of the finance minister’s Kulanu party, formerly headed Yerushalmim and was one of the city’s deputy mayors.

While the strike has affected Jerusalem residents and those who work in the city in a myriad of ways, the most potent visual reminder was the large heaps of trash that have piled up across city streets.

On Tuesday, Channel 10 published footage on its Twitter feed of municipal workers scattering trash across the light rail tracks next to the bustling Mahane Yehuda market, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the light rail’s operations in downtown Jerusalem.

In addition to letting trash go uncollected, sanitation workers have also been placing garbage trucks around government offices in the city to disrupt traffic.

On Monday, dozens of garbage trucks were parked outside of the Knesset with signs reading “If I forget Jerusalem” hung on them, in reference to the famous psalm “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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