- About the Histadrut
- Chairman Ofer Eini
- The Work of the Histadrut
The General Federation of Labour in Israel (The Histadrut) is the largest labour union and voluntary organisation in the country. Founded in 1920, the Histadrut is the most important economic and social body in the state and its activities extend beyond the traditional concerns of trade unions.
It wields enormous influence on the government's wage policy, labour legislation, working conditions in the private sector and is influential in political, social, and cultural spheres. Although it sold most of its holdings to private investors before the mid-1990s it is still the owner, or joint owner, of a wide range of industries and is one of the largest employers in Israel, currently accounting for more than 20 percent of the national income.
The Histadrut unites thousands of union members in one organisation regardless of religion, race or gender. Arab workers have been admitted to the organisation with full membership since 1960 and it currently has over 200,000 Arab members.
The Histadrut maintains a good relationship with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) as well as labour movements in other countries and is affiliated to the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICTU).
The Histadrut is administered by an executive bureau elected by an executive committee, which is in turn elected by conference delegates chosen by members.
The incumbent Chairman, Ofer Eini, succeeded Amir Peretz in January 2006 and was re- elected by a large majority of 92.5 percent in May 2007.Ofer Eini is considered a formidable industrial negotiator and has strengthened and redirected the Histadrut.
He has repeatedly stated his aim to take politics out of the Histadrut and focus on industrial issues, supporting members and championing economic and social justice.
The last two years have been particularly eventful for the Histadrut, fighting for workers’ rights and securing significant benefits for working people. Important agreements in 2007 and 2008 included:
- the resolution of two massive education strikes
- a five percent wage rise for all public sector workers, and
- pension cover for the entire private sector workforce.
The Histadrut has been able to put considerable pressure on the government during national labour disputes, by threatening, and occasionally enacting, massive, debilitating, general strikes across the county.
But as well as resolving these large national issues, the Histadrut has been effective at representing local workers in small businesses, fighting for companies to fully comply with Israel’s minimum wage laws, and negotiating innovative and progressive agreements such as: rights for agency workers computer privacy for employees and tribunals for sexual harassment complaints.
Significant Achievements 2007 - 2009
Pensions for all
In the first agreement of its kind, the Histadrut and the Israeli Federation of Economic Organisations (FIEO) signed a deal in April 2007 to provide all private sector workers in Israel with pension cover. Every worker in Israel is now insured up to the average national monthly wage.
Like many other industrialised nations, pension policy in Israel has been high on the political agenda for sometime and before the new agreement was signed it was a major bone of contention between the government and the Histadrut.
5% wage rise for all public sector workers
A last minute public sector wage agreement was reached in July 2007, preventing a prolonged nationwide general strike. Following nine hours of strenuous negotiations, Ofer Eini and Israel’s finance ministry agreed to a 5 percent wage rise for all 700,000 public sector workers in Israel.
The first installment of the rise was paid to workers in January 2008, and the final two installments in December 2008 and January 2009. The total cost of the agreement came to half a billion pounds.
The Histadrut played a key role in negotiating an end to Israel’s longest ever teachers’strike (55 days) in December 2007. Ofer Eini used his leverage with the government to push through a compromise agreement including:
- a 8.5 percent wage rise for two more hours work per week
- an immediate one-off bonus payment
- a 5 percent pay raise given to all public sector workers, and more investment for school refurbishments.
89-day Senior Lectures’ Strike
The Histadrut also played a major role in bringing an end to the longest university strike in Israeli history in January 2008, helping to prevent the entire academic year from being cancelled. Based on a proposal put forward by Ofer Eini, the agreement included:
- A 15.3 percent raise to compensate for wage erosion from 1997 to 2006
- A future wage erosion mechanism of 1.5 percent per year from 2007 to 2015, and
- A 4.7 percent wage increase secured for all public sector employees as well as any future raises secured.
Over one100,000 students were affected by class cancellations during the strike and the National Union of Israeli Students were ready to sue the state for nearly one billion pounds if the academic year was cancelled.
Computer Privacy agreement
The Histadrut and FIEO reached a groundbreaking collective agreement in June 2008 over employee computer privacy in the workplace. The agreement determines that employees are entitled to use a work computer for personal reasons with the right to privacy, and the employer can only check an employee’s computer if there is suspicion it is being used to break the law or harm the organisation.
Coffee Bean breakthrough agreement
The Histadrut and the coffee shop chain The Coffee Bean, signed a labour agreement in March 2008 ending a long dispute between the company and its employees throughout branches nationwide.
The agreement came after the Histadrut petitioned a regional labour court when an employee was unlawfully dismissed for attempting to unionise employees.
The court instructed the company to rehire him and negotiations with the Histadrut followed. Ten percent of The Coffee Bean’s annual profits now go to its employees.
It is the first collective agreement between the Histadrutand a restaurant and Ofer Eini said he was pleased “the Histadrut was able to put its foot in the main door of an area where it had no previous presence."
Tribunal for sexual harassment complaints
The Histadrut together with Na'amat, the women's movement of the Histadrut, set up a disciplinary tribunal in November 2007 for dealing with sexual harassment in the private sector.
Na'amat’s chair, Talia Livni, initiated the move after finding out that numerous sexual harassment complaints were not being addressed in the private sector.
Shops evading 'sit-down' law
The Histadrut took 61 major shopping store chains to court in December 2007 for infringing on workers' rights under Israel’s new“sit-down” law. The law stipulates that employers must provide chairs at the work place for cashiers, salespersons and service workers unless they can prove that "the job at hand cannot be carried out from a sitting position."
In addition, the chairs provided must have backrests for use during rest periods. Employers violating the law are required to pay a large fine. Ofer Eini said the Histadrut’s inspections had shown the law was being violated by many chains, including: Nine West, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's.