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Labor Strife in Israel

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The Cabinet, meeting in special session today, moved urgently to end a work slow down by civil aviation employes that has created chaos at Ben Gurion Airport and to avert a threatened strike by hospital nurses. Both groups are demanding higher wages.

The nurses have agreed to postpone a strike, called for today, pending negotiations which have been given a deadline of two weeks. A committee that includes Finance and Health Ministry officials expects to complete recommendations within that time. Health Minister Victor Shemtov said after the Cabinet meeting that he was sure extra pay for the nurses would not set off a new wave of demands from other health service employes.

Another committee, consisting of Transport Ministry officials, has been set up to deal with the aviation workers. A workers delegation went to Jerusalem this afternoon for a meeting with Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi. Yaacobi promised that no settlement would be made that would exceed present wage agreements.

The government is fearful that higher wages for any single group of employes would bring down an avalanche of demands from other government employes that could wreck the budget. In the case of the aviation workers, however the government faces the collapse of Israel’s vital communications with the rest of the world. Air France and Alitalia have already announced the cancellation of stop-overs at Ben Gurion Airport on their long flights to the Far East. Lufthansa, the German airline, warned that it would suspend service altogether until the situation improves.


The civil aviation workers went on strike at midnight Monday but were forced back to work by a court order yesterday. Since then they have resorted to a slow-down. While incoming flights arrive more or less on time, passengers must wait-for hours to claim their luggage. Many have simply left their bags at the airport creating an additional problem for security personnel who have to collect and store abandoned suitcases and valises.

Outgoing passengers are experiencing delays of up to 6-7 hours because the slowdown has left aircraft unprepared for take-off. Many passengers have been put up at hotels at airline expense.

The aviation workers are demanding equal pay with El Al and Israel Aviation Industry employes. The nurses insist on better compensation for the long shifts they must work because of the manpower shortage in hospitals. Israelis generally support the nurses’ complaints but have little sympathy for the aviation workers. The ministerial committee on wages said last night it would never yield to the latter’s demands.


Meanwhile, Haifa port was paralyzed for two days this week by a wildcat strike of warehousemen which prevented ships from loading or discharging cargoes. Several vessels left Haifa yesterday without cargo. The Elco Electronics plant was shut down by its management yesterday because of a work slowdown by employes. The management of the Shimshon tire factory threatened to close its Petach Tikva plant unless workers demanding promotions and higher wages ended a slowdown there.

Tourist guides set up picket lines outside Ministry of Tourism offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem yesterday demanding recognition as a dollar-earning branch of the economy with all of the benefits and privileges accorded that branch. Administrative employes of the government-controlled television system threatened a three-day strike in support of demands for higher pay. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry was confronted yesterday by an angry delegation from the Negev township of Yeruhum demanding jobs for 150 workers who were dismissed from local plants.

The latest wave of labor strife involves many long-simmering disputes that have come to a head in anticipation of a 25-40 percent increase in the prices of basic commodities and public transportation. The increases are unavoidable because the government must reduce or eliminate its subsidies of various items and services in order to live within the present budget. The price hikes, which were scheduled to go into effect today, have been postponed until after the holidays marking Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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