Union threatens general strike in Jerusalem over budget battle
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Union threatens general strike in Jerusalem over budget battle

After mayor says city will lay off 2,150 workers if it doesn’t receive funds he says its owed, labor federation warns it will paralyze capital

A pile of garbage left by Jerusalem city workers in front of the Finance Ministry as part of the municipality's dispute with the ministry over funding, on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A pile of garbage left by Jerusalem city workers in front of the Finance Ministry as part of the municipality's dispute with the ministry over funding, on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The head of the Histadrut labor federation’s Jerusalem branch said the union will launch a general strike in the capital in coming weeks, after Mayor Nir Barkat said thousands of municipal workers may be laid off if the city doesn’t receive hundreds of millions of shekels in funding it says it is owed by the Finance Ministry.

“I received a message right now from [Histadrut head] Avi Nissenkorn authorizing us to declare an immediate labor dispute, beginning in two weeks,” Hadashot TV news quoted Daniel Bonfil telling municipal employees Tuesday.

Barkat said Monday 2,150 city workers would be laid off if the Jerusalem Municipality doesn’t receive the money from the Finance Ministry. He also warned of deep cuts in funding for public services.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat holds a press conference at the Jerusalem Municipality regarding his dispute with the Finance Ministry over the city’s budget, on January 1, 2018. (Flash90)

As the municipality has stepped up its campaign to secure the funds it says its owed, city garbage trucks dumped tons of trash outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem Sunday morning.

Garbage, also left at other locations in the area, blocked roads in the government quarter. The action came hours before the cabinet was scheduled to hold its weekly meeting nearby, in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Barkat reportedly claims that the capital has not been receiving the budget it deserves, with the reason being that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is getting back at him personally for supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last elections and not Kahlon.

Kahlon, a former minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party, established the Kulanu party as a socially conscious version of Likud, winning 10 seats in the 2015 elections. His brother, Kobi, previously served as deputy mayor under Barkat.

Barkat claims the ostensible political vendetta is costing the capital hundreds of millions of shekels every year. The mayor also charges that Kahlon has not advanced a budgeting law that would give Jerusalem a special grant, Hadashot TV news reported.

The campaign has persisted for several weeks under the slogan “Kahlon decide: Jerusalem or politics.” The municipality has also published video clips on social media accusing Kahlon of withholding funding and of ignoring pleas from Barkat to release the money.

Critics of Barkat say that in recent years he has allowed his own national political aspirations within Likud to come at the expense of the city.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon speaks during the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 24, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In a statement, the Finance Ministry rejected Barkat’s claims and said that Kahlon had actually increased budgeting for the capital.

“During the term of Finance Minister Kahlon, the special grant given to the city of Jerusalem was doubled and reached a record sum. During our term Jerusalem was given special grants for the unprecedented amount of more than NIS 3 billion ($860 million). Furthermore, Kahlon reduced corporate tax in Jerusalem in order to draw companies and factories to the city. Jerusalem stands above all disputes, and the Finance Ministry will continue to strengthen it and its residents exactly as it has done until today.”

Figures released by the National Insurance Institute earlier this month found that the poorest region in the country continued to be Jerusalem, where some 55 percent of children live under the poverty line (down from 58% in 2015), followed by northern and southern Israel.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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