Police in Union Drive

Three police officers, one of inspector rank, have been reprimanded, fined and warned for meeting with newsmen and appearing on television to advocate the establishment of a policemen’s union. The officers, Inspector David Ofek and Sgt. Majors Haim Shmuelewitz and Yoel Reshef are in the forefront of a recently begun drive to unionize the force.

They have already collected hundreds of signatures from fellow officers. Ofek, who appeared on a radio interview despite the disciplinary action, has been summoned to appear before the police headquarters court, roughly the equivalent of a military court martial.

A police union is vigorously opposed by Interior Minister Yosef Burg and the police top brass. Police officers are forbidden by regulations to discuss police matters with the press unless they are designated official spokesmen. The three who appeared on television, however, made no references to police work or operational procedures. In protesting the action taken against them they noted that they had spoken only about ordinary social problems which is their right as civilians.

PROBLEMS POLICE FACE

The police force is a civilian department under control of the Interior Ministry. But it is operated on military lines and police wage scales are linked to the army’s. But policemen have no set working hours. They can be called to duty at any time, day or night or while on vacation and receive no overtime pay.

The drive for unionization was in fact not begun by the policemen but by their wives who have organized a Policemen’s Wives Association, an officially registered organization. They want higher wages, higher pensions and other social benefits for their husbands.

The Interior Ministry and the police high command argue that a unionized police force is inconceivable. Burg has declared that a force entrusted with internal security cannot function under the threat of strikes for higher wages or demands for improved working conditions or promotions. Senior police officials have charged that the attempt to organize a police union amounted to politization of the force. Burg has promised a delegation of police officers’ wives that a wage increase would be considered but warned that if a union is established, police pay will cease to be linked to that of the army.

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