Striking Port Workers Defy Two Labor Court Back-to-work Orders

Striking port workers at Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat defied back-to-work orders by two labor courts today. Their walk-out, now in its second day, has tied up 70 ships and has delayed the loading of some 2.25 million cases of citrus fruit valued at $11 million. The strike at Israel’s three seaports has also idled about 20,000 citrus pickers and another 13,000 will be out of work if it continues. The Citrus Marketing Board ordered a suspension of picking yesterday to prevent the spoilage of fruit on the docks.

Transport Minister Gad Yaacobi conferred with Premier Yitzhak Rabin today on the crisis that is costing an estimated $500,000 a day in demurrage charges. Later Yaacobi instructed the Ports Authority to withhold pay from the striking workers. He warned them to return to their jobs before “a further deterioration creates far-reaching consequences.”

The dockworkers are demanding an IL 600 per month wage increase over and above the wage agreements they signed five months ago. A Beersheba labor court rejected their demands yesterday and ordered the Ashdod and Eilat port workers to end their strike. A similar order was issued by the Haifa court today. But the workers refused to comply. They indicated, however, that they might reconsider tomorrow morning. The strike has hit Israel at the peak of the citrus export season. About 18 ships are waiting to load fruit now in warehouses and on stalled conveyor belts.

Meanwhile, employees of the Bank of Israel, the country’s central bank, declared a two-day strike today and workers at Bank Leumi, Israel’s largest commercial bank, announced that they would begin another two-day strike tomorrow. The Bank Leumi cashiers and accountants staged a two-day walk-out last week in support of wage demands.

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