Rail union halts maintenance work as privatization dispute escalates

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[Originally Published on Times of Israel site, “Israel Inside” section, 8/3/12]

Friday labor action may be first step en route to strike

The Rail Workers Union, a sub-section of Israel’s General Histadrut Labor Union, announced on Thursday that they will enact a freeze on all essential development and maintenance work planned for Friday due to the recent decision by the Transport Ministry to privatize Israel’s rail service.

The rail workers stressed that it was not their intention to cause any harm to the Israeli travelling public, but that they had no choice as long as the rail company’s management authority refused to return to the negotiating table, reported Maariv.

The reforms announced by Minister of Transport, Yisrael Katz at a press conference last Monday, will privatize the rail service by splitting up the current train company into three subsidiary entities responsible for maintenance, cargo and real estate development respectively.

Avi Edri, General Secretary of the Train Workers Union was quoted in Maariv saying, “we have opted to respond to the management’s intransigence in a proportional manner and it is not our aim to adversely affect the Israeli public.”

However, Edri also added that, “in the event that management continues to be oblivious to this situation, at the end of the day, passengers may also been harmed by future industrial action.”

In response, a spokesman from the rail company’s management body was quoted in Maariv saying that they were disappointed by the new escalation initiated by the workers union.  “There is no doubt that this action will harm the Israeli public by postponing much-needed development work and extensions to the service, especially for more remote communities in the Negev and Galilee.”

There are fears that the suspension of development and maintenance work is only the first stage of the rapidly worsening relations between rail workers and management, which could ultimately lead to a general strike on Israel’s railways.

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