Railway employees disrupt services as dispute over work conditions sharpens

Railway employees disrupt services as dispute over work conditions sharpens

Some train services halted after Israel Railways introduces new schedule for train drivers; Histadrut warns of more delays

An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel Railways employees on Sunday initiated work sanctions against their employer after negotiations over work conditions continued to falter, a spokesman for the Histadrut labor federation said.

Workers are unhappy with a recently published work schedule set to be implemented next month that will increase train drivers’ work at the helm of their locomotives, while others will not be driving. In the current dispute that began three weeks ago — four others are still ongoing — most of the sanctions so far have been internal and have not involved disruption to rail services.

“Talks between the Histadrut, the workers’ union, and Israel Railways’ management have reached an impasse; all the compromise proposals made by the workers have been rejected by the company management,” the labor union’s spokesman told Israeli media.

Israel Railways said the changes to the work schedule were necessary as new services, including the high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line, begin operations and that the increase in driving duration would be from three hours, 29 minutes to three hours, 55 minutes within their eight-hour work shift, Ynet reported.

An employee told Army Radio that train drivers already found they have very little or no time to rest during their shift and that this endangered passengers.

A labor court last week ratified the management’s new work program and made only a few light changes.

Sunday’s sanctions involved the shutdown of two main-line services, from Harishonim station in the Rishon Lezion area to Lod, a main Israel Railways hub, and between Karmiel and Haifa.

The Histadrut spokesman warned that the disruption to services could increase. Israel Railways accused union activists within the company of acting against the wishes of many company employees.

Israel Railways CEO Shahar Ayalon, left, with  Minister of Transportation Israel Katz in January  2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Last month, services in northern Israel were thrown into chaos after dozens of drivers and inspectors called in sick — a tactic they have used from time to time —  in an apparent protest over new work schedules. Thirty drivers called in sick and some 24 trains were canceled.

Israel Railways management called that action “irresponsible and unnecessary.”

In December, the company announced that CEO Shahar Ayalon was to step down. The development came following a string of problems with services and recent quarterly losses of hundreds of millions of shekels but Ayalon fought his dismissal and is still in place. He participated in Sunday’s talks with workers and union officials.

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