Staff at Ben Gurion international airport joined in for six hours bringing traffic to a virtual halt
Passengers wait for their flights during a six-hour strike at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Half a million Israeli public and private sector workers went on general strike, shutting down government offices, banks and airport traffic over the rights of contract workers. © Jack Guez - AFP
Staff at Ben Gurion international airport joined in for six hours bringing traffic to a virtual halt
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AFP
Last updated: February 8, 2012

Israel hit by general strike

Half a million Israeli public and private sector workers went on general strike on Wednesday, shutting down government offices, banks and airport traffic over the rights of contract workers.

The stoppage went into effect early in the day, after late-night talks broke down between the powerful Histadrut labour federation and the finance ministry.

Starting at 6:00 am (0400 GMT), the strike shut down much of Israel's government, along with banks, hospitals and offices.

The country's electricity company was also on strike, as well as the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and major ports and rail lines.

Israeli public radio's main station went quiet at 1200 GMT, participating in the strike for two hours, though hourly news briefs were provided.

Staff at Ben Gurion international airport joined in for six hours, bringing traffic to a virtual halt between 0400 GMT and 1000 GMT.

Local media said that airlines sought to minimise disruption by rescheduling flights to before or after the six-hour airport stoppage, but there were logjams at security and check-in desks when service resumed.

Some schools were also hit by the strike, though bus services in most cities were not affected.

The national labour court convened in the early afternoon to hear from workers and the government what progress was being made in their negotiations.

The Histadrut, an umbrella organisation of trade unions, accuses the government of failing to agree to improvements to the rights of contract workers that the private sector has said it will adopt.

Histadrut chief Ofer Eini said the federation had reached an agreement in principle with the private sector on "the total alignment of conditions for full employees and contract workers."

"If a similar measure is adopted by the public sector, with the agreement of the prime minister, the strike will be halted immediately," it said.

The issue of contract workers has been simmering for months, with the Histadrut staging a four-hour general strike over the same disagreement in November.

It says that employment of contract workers, who can be fired without notice and receive few benefits, has mushroomed, particularly in the public sector.

They want to see contract workers receive the same benefits as others, and have called on the government to hire some of the contract workers as full employees.

The government says it is willing to make some concessions on the status of contract workers but that it would be economically disastrous to offer them all the same rights as full staff.

In a statement on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that a strike would be counterproductive.

"A strike will not solve the problem of contract workers," he warned, adding that there was "no magic solution to the employment problems that have been created here over decades."

"The Israeli economy is in a delicate situation and now is not the time to risk the stability that we have achieved."

The media reported that the government had offered some concessions during Tuesday night's talks, including some salary increases for contract workers.

Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz were due to continue talks on Wednesday afternoon.

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