Close to 100 thousand civil servants have returned from furlough straight to a labor dispute with the government. Two weeks ago the government, led by the MoF, announced a series of reforms focused on reducing spending, which will include wage cuts and layoffs in the public sector.
“The government is going to try the easy way out with wage cuts," said Ariel Ya’akobi, chair of the government workers’ union in the Histadrut. "If they had opened a dialogue with us we could have come up with better solutions. They haven’t thought this through. We’re talking about wage cuts during the worst economic crisis in our history, it’s absurd. They can’t even seem to manage to spend the stimulus package they promised, only 20 percent of it has been distributed so far. And on top of that they want to cut wages for 70 thousand workers. It’s a disaster."
They claim to be open to negotiations. Are they?
"No. They’ve got their mind set on these cuts, and they don’t intend to negotiate. They’ve been putting on a fake smile for publicity’s sake, but they’re not backing down."
Why do you think they’re pushing for a spending cut?
"Usually, when they want to cut wages or fire workers, they approach the union saying that the government is in financial difficulty. Whenever the government is in difficulty we’re always there to help, and we find a way to solve the problem with as little harm to workers as possible. But this time the government has already decided how much and where they’re going to cut expenses."
"They’ve had this planned out for a while, they’ve made this plan without consulting the union. They never really intended to consult us. Even though they keep trying to portray themselves as open to negotiations and us as bullies, they don’t intend to compromise. They want 270 workers laid off."
Does the new Minister of Finance agree with the ministry’s officials?
"This plan was worked out long before Katz (the new Minister of Finance) took office. I hope that we can reach some sort of understanding with him, and that he might be able to influence the officials."
"The fact that a new government has been formed is good. This past year and a half there was no elected officials to regulate and set boundaries to the ministry’s officials. Without elected officials to stop them pushing for constant spending cuts. We need elected officials to make sure the ministry in under democratic oversight."
Have the MoF utilized the political vacuum?
"The public services have kept on working all through this period of political deadlock. They have their own agenda. When there’s no public overseeing of what goes on in the MoF, the officials can do what they want. The fact that we now have a government, and that some of the ministers are ex-Histadrut Chairpersons with higher sensitivity to these issues is a cause for optimism."
What have government workers got to say about the way the government has handled the crisis?
"They are extremely frustrated with the government as an employer. The general feeling is that there’s no one in control, no one with a wide perspective on how to handle the crisis. Some of the other OECD member countries have handled this crisis much better, without furloughing 70 percent of their employees. It all comes down to planning. A lack of planning may really hit some of our workers. Not all government employees receive high salaries. Some of them may find it very difficult to cope with the way things have been handled."