Train drivers’ strike causes disruption on the rails

Train drivers’ strike causes disruption on the rails

30 trains canceled Thursday after engineers call in sick to protest management decisions

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People wait to board a train, June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Shay Levy/FLASH90)
People wait to board a train, June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Shay Levy/FLASH90)

An ongoing labor protest by 35 locomotive drivers on Thursday began to cause disruptions in train service throughout Israel.

Israel Railways announced that it would cancel 30 trains, beginning at 3 p.m. Express trains would also make local stops in an attempt to make up for the missing lines, the company said.The cancellations, coming at the end of the workweek in Israel, had the potential to affect thousands of commuters and soldiers heading home for the weekend.

On Tuesday night, 42 employees called in sick, about a fifth of the total driver roll call, leaving the work schedule for the following day with gaping holes and forcing the management to reduce the frequency of some of the trains.

The next day, the Tel Aviv District Labor Court told the Histadrut labor federation to order the drivers back to work, but only seven out of 42 initial strikers showed up, Army Radio reported.

The court reconvened on Thursday morning to review the situation. The Labor Court decided to order the engineers back to work after they all stayed at home for a second day.

The court ruled that the drivers must either return to their duties or report to the Israel Railways’ own clinic by 3 p.m., where a doctor’s examination would confirm if they were really unwell.

Tuesday’s mass call-in was the second of the year, as employees declared a wildcat action to protest new guidelines for the employee work schedule.

The workers’ move was apparently conceived as a response to management’s decision to introduce a new, automated system that would allocate the workers’ shifts instead of having shift supervisors determine the work schedule.

The old system at Israel Railways had allowed supervisors to divvy up shifts unequally, giving their friends more convenient and profitable shifts, management said in explaining the switch to a computerized system.

The company had recently sent a warning letter to all of its workers, according to Ynet, advising them that “serious steps” would be taken against employees caught feigning illness and playing hooky from work.

Yaron Hadari, human resources and logistics director for Israel Railways, wrote in the letter, “It is clear to everyone that this behavior can cause disruptions to the movement of trains and harm to the company’s efforts to add and improve the service given to passengers, as well as damage to the company’s ability to allow workers to take vacations. It goes without saying that we condemn this behavior and expect that such actions will have no part in the accepted norms of behavior among employees and managers.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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