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Labor Leaders Blast Netanyahu’s Budget Plan

Labor federations around the world are protesting the emergency economic program being proposed by Israel’s government, saying the burden of the plan unfairly falls on Israel’s workers.

The AFL-CIO, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and a variety of labor-affiliated groups have written letters to Prime Minister Sharon or Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decrying the plan, which calls for an 8% average cut in public-sector salaries, reduced social benefits for workers and the layoff of thousands of government employees, including 6,000 teachers.

Netanyahu has defended the austerity plan as the only way to jump-start Israel’s ailing economy, which has suffered monumental blows since the beginning of the second intifada in 2001. By slashing the state budget by $2.35 billion, Netanyahu hopes to free up capital and encourage business investment.

Israel’s general federation of trade unions, the Histadrut, has protested the plan vociferously, however, calling it “Thatcherite” and saying that it will increase income inequality.

The letters from abroad “are an expression of labor solidarity,” said Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Committee for Labor Israel, which organized the letter-writing campaign. “They’re saying the government, through the finance minister, is violating the charter of the International Labor Organization, of which Israel is a member.”

“The program you have proposed places an unfair share of the sacrifices on those who can least afford it, Israel’s working families,” the AFL-CIO’s president, John Sweeney, wrote Sharon. “It severely undermines the public sector at a time when Israeli citizens now more than ever must rely on essential public services in order to survive. Particularly egregious is the unilateral termination of collective agreements by legislation, which is a clear violation of Israel’s international commitments under ILO conventions it has ratified.”

The general secretary of the ICFTU, Guy Ryder, called upon Sharon “to rescind the relevant decrees, failing which the ICFTU will examine with the Histadrut the initiation of formal complaint procedures against your government and the ILO.”

Also writing letters were the Labor Zionist Alliance and Na’amat USA, among others.

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