El Al Dispute May Have Serious Consequences for Future Labor Relations in Israel

The dispute with El Al maintenance workers which has grounded Israel’s national airline for the past week, took on a new dimension today that could have a serious effect on all future labor relations in Israel. The question posed by the latest developments is whether Histadrut, Israel’s powerful labor federation, is able to exert its authority over local unions and workers committees.

Histadrut sided with the government and the El Al management in demanding that the maintenance crews return to normal work schedules and renounce strikes and slow-downs such as the one that precipitated the latest El Al crisis last Thursday. The workers rejected a Histadrut ultimatum that expired at noon Monday and the trade union federation promptly implemented its threat to waive protection of the workers’ jobs.

But Histadrut has failed so far to get its policy endorsed by other workers committees, including those of other El Al employes who are deprived of their wages as long as the airline remains shut down. Without such endorsements, there is little chance of applying pressure on the maintenance men who now view their struggle as a matter of prestige as much as wages. The Jerusalem and Haifa labor councils did adopt resolutions supporting the Histadrut action. But the workers committees have not gone along.

ROLE OF HISTADRUT QUESTIONED

El Al workers committees, far from pressuring the maintenance men to comply with Histadrut’s demand, have made a demand of their own for an inquiry into the El Al management’s handling of the company’s affairs. Other workers committees have expressed fear that Histadrut’s abandonment of the airline maintenance workers might be repeated should they become embroiled in similar labor disputes in the future. The El Al workers were on the verge of turning in their Histadrut membership cards yesterday, but decided to wait.

The situation has been exacerbated by a strike of Dead Sea chemical plant workers who claim they are being taxed at too high a rate and by a new strike of maritime technical workers at Haifa port. The Haifa refinery workers are pressing for higher wages and also may call a strike.

Meanwhile, El Al, its 13 jets parked in hangars, continues to transfer its passengers and freight to foreign carriers at a loss of millions of Pounds a day. But the El Al management has not given ground. It insists that it will not resume operations until it has firm assurances from its employes that they will not cause future disruptions of service. The El Al position has been backed by Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi.

It is expected that eventually the dispute will be settled with the maintenance workers gaining at least some of their demands. Meanwhile, Israel, which abandoned its maritime passenger services several years ago, is now without a passenger air carrier.

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