Labor court cuts short Haifa Port workers’ strike

Union was protesting the start of work on Israel’s first privately operated sea terminal, in Ashdod

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

An aerial view of the Haifa Port, northern Israel, June 14, 2014. (Shay Levi/Flash90)
An aerial view of the Haifa Port, northern Israel, June 14, 2014. (Shay Levi/Flash90)

The Haifa Labor Court ruled Tuesday afternoon that local port workers must immediately return to work after port employees declared a general strike earlier in the day to protest a cornerstone-laying ceremony for Israel’s first privately operated seaport in Ashdod.

The judges ruled that the strike contradicts prior decisions by the National Labor Court and is therefore illegal, Israel Radio reported. In response, the Haifa Port workers committee announced that work at the port would resume on Wednesday.

The port workers had called the strike for 9:30 a.m., citing failed talks with the Finance Ministry over plans to open two privately operated terminals that will compete with Israel’s existing state-owned ports in Ashdod and Haifa.

The Haifa Labor Court is set to hold another hearing Wednesday with both Finance Ministry officials and members of the Haifa Port workers committee, according to Israel Radio.

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Finance Minister Yair Lapid attended an event in Ashdod to mark the launch of work on the new Ashdod port.

The Netanyahu government has said it is determined to reform the country’s ports. The vast majority of Israel’s imports come in by sea, and economists have suggested the ports are a bottleneck that contributes to the high cost of living in the country. But the policy has pitted the government against the powerful port workers’ unions.

The new South Port will cost NIS 3.3 billion ($930 million) and will be built about a kilometer north of the current Ashdod Port. It will consist of a 1,000-meter pier and 2,800-meter breakwater. The pier will have facilities for loading and offloading ships, warehouses and storage areas, office space and more. Construction, which will be carried out by Beijing-based contracting firm China Harbor, is set to begin at the end of the year and will take about seven years to complete.

Another new port is also planned for Haifa.

In May, police arrested 15 current and former port workers, including a number of senior officials, on suspicion of corruption.

Authorities said their investigation revealed a suspected network of port workers who would use their influence to secure port contracts for private companies controlled by associates, who would in turn pay the workers, many of them senior union leaders, a share of their profits.

David Shamah and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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