Dozens of workers came to the strike picket line this morning (November 1st) at the entrance to Yehuda Steel Fences in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. The workers held signs demanding negotiations towards a collective agreement with WAC-MAAN, including workers’ rights. Some 140 have been on strike since the morning both at Yehuda Fences and the steel-rolling plant Sigma, both of which belong to “Yehuda Steel. Ltd”.
Yesterday, behind WAC-MAAN’s back, the management distributed a letter to all employees, including a special letter to Action Committee member Yitzhak Sebach. The company claimed that the planned strike was illegal and threatened that the striking workers would lose thousands of shekels in wages. Additionally, the company’s representative, Atty. Orly Gerby from Herzog Fox & Neeman, sent a letter to WAC-MAAN’s legal advisor, Atty. Aya Bartenstein, reiterating the false claim that the strike would be illegal, as well as making baseless claims against the workers and the Workers’ Action Committee, which, Gerby claimed, was acting against the law.
Dudi Tzamir, Action Committee member, responded:
“The management’s letter is a string of lies. Nobody from the Workers’ Committee has spoken with contractors or threatened them. We have no connection with them, and nobody has threatened the workers in order to make them strike. On the contrary – the workers pressured the Committee to call a strike, while the company illegally threatened some workers to make them withdraw their membership in WAC-MAAN. We have recordings of these kinds of conversations, and we have told the managers involved that this is illegal. The company’s attitude towards the workers is what led to the strike. We work more and earn less, and the workers are no longer willing to accept this situation. In the past, bonus payments [“premia”] made up 60-70% of our wage, but in recent years this has fallen to 20-25%. In the past we worked 250 hours a month to get 6,000-7,000 shekels, now we need to work 270 and barely even make this amount. If a worker doesn’t come to work or refuses to put in additional hours, they deduct 25% of the bonus payment for the month, and the company intends to withhold bonus payments this month because of the strike. But this won’t help it – we are together in this struggle, until we get a collective agreement.”
The company’s claims that WAC-MAAN is not the representative workers’ organization is false. It must be noted that during the struggle, the management of Yehuda Fences repeatedly changed the reason it had given for refusing to negotiate towards a collective agreement. At first, it refused to respond to WAC-MAAN. Then it claimed that WAC-MAAN did not represent the requisite one-third of workers in the Yehuda Still Fences Company. When it was proved that 120 of 140 workers had joined WAC-MAAN, it claimed that the basic bargaining unit was not the company that WAC-MAAN organized but the entire Yehuda Group, which includes three subsidiaries. It must also be noted that as required by law, a labor dispute was declared 15 days before the warning strike, which was held on 9 Oct.
The background to the dispute:
The struggle at Yehuda Fences and Sigma comes after a period of worsening employment terms, reduction in peripheral benefits and wage erosion. Work at Yehuda Fences is hard physical labor around the clock in three shifts. Workers labor in open areas, enduring high temperatures in the summer and cold in the winter. Wages consist of a basic wage of not much more than the legal minimum, with bonus payments (“premiot”) paid to some workers arbitrarily and without transparency. Last year, the management reduced bonus payments and cancelled the yearly bonus as well as the holiday gifts which workers in Israel customarily receive from employers.
It must be noted that Yehuda Fences is one of Israel’s leading companies in the production of welded mesh, construction and other steel products.