Strike Halts Operations at Ashdod and Haifa
Merchant vessels calling at Haifa and Ashdod, Israel's main commercial seaports, face serious delays due to longshore labor walkouts. Stevedores at the state-run ports are protesting the impending arrival of competition from nearby private terminals.
In 2013, Israel's government agreed to allow new privately-operated terminals adjacent to the Haifa and Ashdod port complexes. MSC's Terminal International Ltd. has a contract for a facility in Ashdod, and Shanghai International Port Group has a 25-year lease at Haifa. The new private terminals are intended to reduce the impact of labor unrest and the cost of imported goods.
Longshore members of Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel) walked out at Ashdod and Haifa on Wednesday in protest of plans for the port concessions. Shortly thereafter, Israel's National Labor Court ruled that these union employees would have to return to work, and it ordered that union leaders must appear in court to discuss the labor action. "In view of the circumstances . . . and because the work disruptions are in violation of agreements, we are issuing ex parte orders mandating an immediate return to work," the court ruled.
As of Thursday, local union leaders had not complied with the court's request and the strike continued, according to Israeli media. Police have not been able to locate five local union committee heads to bring them before the court, and a court hearing has been rescheduled for Friday morning.
As of Thursday over 40 ships were held up due to the strike, port spokesmen told Reuters. The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce estimates that damages from delays could reach up to $100 million per week if the walkout continues. The strike affects perishable goods like produce and pharmaceuticals as well as ordinary containerized cargo.
Eli Glickman, the CEO of Israeli ocean carrier ZIM, warned on Thursday that his firm could be forced to transfer its operations to other ports if the strike continues. "The damage caused to our company every day imposes on us an unacceptable burden and raises our operating costs beyond any reasonable standard, certainly compared to parallel costs in similar ports," he said in a statement.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, warned that factories would have to shut down if raw materials could not be imported through Haifa and Ashdod. "We are directly harmed and our damage is enormous. It is inconceivable that we will have to unload raw materials at Port Said [Egypt], and we will not know when they will arrive in Israel," he said at the court hearing on Thursday.