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Friction over Shorter Work Week

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While Israeli manufacturers are engaged in a major effort to increase productivity by trying to convince workers to put in more hours, an agreement signed only two days before the general election last May is now the subject of serious friction between the Histadrut and the manufacturers and the government may be called in to decide if the agreement is valid.

The agreement calls for a five-day work week for some 14,000 employees of the Maglo industrial combine of the Israeli aircraft industry. According to Avraham Shavit, president of the Manufacturers Association, the pact was signed May 15 and approved by the then Labor government in what he termed was a bribe to the workers to vote for the Labor Alignment slate.

Shavit, who now wants the Likud-led government to reconsider the agreement, said it was an unprecedented and scandalous move to sign such an agreement, especially in such a large enterprise, and warned that it may pave the way for other workers in small workshops and factories to demand a five-day work week.

The head of Histadrut’s trade union department, Uriel Abrahamovitz, denounced Shavit and said that the agreement would not be nullified, that Histadrut would mobilize its forces to prevent any tampering with it. He said the agreement was no secret. The announcement of it was released to the press but in the hectic post-election developments in which the country was swept up in the unexpected results, the news media apparently neglected to carry that release.

Abrahamovitz claimed that a shorter work week can enhance and stimulate productivity. Given one free day for shopping and attending to private affairs, absenteeism could be reduced significantly, he observed. He also noted that there are several factories which are currently operating on a five-day work week. Labor circles said the government will have to re-approve the agreement or risk serious trouble between the Histadrut and the government and between the Histadrut and the Manufacturers Association.

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