Sunday’s threat from the Histadrut labour federation is based on Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 2004 austerity budget plan which is to be debated on Monday.

The Histadrut is opposed to proposals to cut spending by 10 billion shekels ($2.2 billion), including public sector job cuts, and create competition among Israel's three ports, a spokesman said.

"The proposal is to turn each of the ports (in Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat) into government companies that would create competition and increase the level of service," said a spokesman for the Finance Ministry.

Histadrut leaders have called for the organisation’s body that deals with job action to call a “work dispute” – a move that would allow a strike to be called within two weeks – if the cabinet approves the budget plans.

But the Histradut’s threats should not be taken lightly.

"The Histadrut sees itself as free to call for a national strike since the government broke the agreement with its budget plans..."

David Pik
Histadrut spokesperson

Earlier in the year, the group launched two strikes in protest at the government’s tough spending cuts of 10 billion shekels. The job action crippled the public sector before a compromise was reached with the Finance Ministry on job and salary cuts.

Deal's off

As part of the agreement, the Histadrut would not to launch any strike action for two years. But it would seem that things have changed.

"The Histadrut sees itself as free to call for a national strike since the government broke the agreement with its budget plans that will lead to more public sector workers being fired," said spokesman David Pik.

Histadrut leader Amir Peretz said there would be "no compromising because we have lost faith in the government" in comments broadcast on Israel Radio.

Earlier on Sunday, Pik said Israeli port workers were threatening to close down the country's ports with a full-scale strike to protest against government plans to encourage competition among Israel's three ports.

Port workers on Thursday voted in favour of a "work dispute".

The Histadrut fears job losses and the deterioration of work conditions if the government plans are implemented, Pik said.

A ports' strike would cause large-scale economic damage at a time when Israel is suffering its worst recession in 50 years, hit by the global economic slowdown and the almost three-year intifada.