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Strike Paralyzing Israel’s Small but Vital Rail System

A weeklong strike by Israel Railroad workers has paralyzed the country’s small but vital rail system and is proving costly to the carrier and its customers.

The immediate cause is the proposed dismissal of 200 railroad employees.

But the dispute has its origins in the recent amalgamation of the state-owned railway administration with the autonomous ports authority to form the Ports and Railroad Authority.

So far, it has cost the railroad some $750,000 in lost revenues.

The railway workers say they were promised originally that the merger would raise their wages to the level of port workers, who get four times as much.

They found out later they are still considered government employees bound by the national civil servant agreements and wage scales.

In addition, the new combined authority came up with an efficiency plan that calls for 200 dismissals.

The railroad workers committee responded by calling a strike seven days ago, which is continuing despite back-to-work orders issued by the Tel Aviv district labor court.

The court ordered contempt hearings against seven committee members. When they failed to appear, the police were asked to apprehend them.

Meanwhile, there have been no passenger or freight trains for a week. Hardest hit is Israel Chemicals, a government-owned company that moves about 20,000 tons of Negev-mined phosphates a day by rail.

Officials estimate the firm’s loss at more than $1.5 million a day.

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