Israeli Court Lands Major Victory for Union Rights

This is a guest post by Eyal

With news from Israel usually dominated by the Israeli/Palestinian peace process (or lack thereof), and labour news dominated mostly by new restrictions placed on unions (such as “right to work” laws), it’s refreshing to hear a bit of left-wing news from Israel, protecting union rights in an unprecedented level:

The Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), Pelephone Communications Ltd. employees, and all employees seeking to unionize, have won a major victory. The National Labor Court, under President Nili Arad, yesterday handed down a precedent-setting, and even internationally historic, ruling that an employer does not have the right to intervene or express an opinion about unionization by employees.

Under the ruling, during unionization activity, the employer may only undertake the activity it undertook before the unionization, and then only if these activities do not harm the unionization.

According to the ruling, when considering a conflict between rights – freedom to unionize against the employer’s freedom of expression – the harm to the employer’s freedom of expression is “proportionate and essential” so long as it is intended to maintain and realize the employees’ right to unionize.

While relations between unions and employers has long been regulated by an extensive set of laws and agreements, overseen by a special Labour Court, courts have found that employers frequently try to prevent unions from being formed in the first place through a series of measures ranging from intimidation (“informing” workers about the consequences) to forming “alternative” (employer-backed) unions to firing organizers. This was exemplified by a long standing dispute over unionizing attempts in Pelephone, one of Israel’s major mobile operators.

According to Haaretz:

The wide-ranging decision set standards that go well beyond the Pelephone case. The National Labor Court decision came in an appeal by the Histadrut of a lower labor court decision. Among the practices barred by the national court are employers’ attempts to contact or meet with workers about their union organizing efforts, or to track such activities.

One of the most striking hallmarks of this new ruling is that it doesn’t go against the wishes of the establishment, but rather was endorsed by Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the former director of the Israeli Manufacturer’s Association.

The decision will likely be appealed, as some of the restrictions placed by the courts are claimed to be too stringent (for example placing too stringent restrictions on employers’ freedom of speech), so it remains to see exactly to what extent it is maintained (although it is probable that it will be mostly upheld). Nonetheless, with union rights (especially in the US) frequently under attack, it’s refreshing to see the courts and the governments stand up for worker rights.

Gene adds: TULIP reports:

In a major victory for the trade union movement, Israel’s Histadrut was last night recognized by the mobile phone carrier Pelephone as the representative of its workers following a long dispute.

A joint statement issued by the employer and the union stated that “Pelephone’s management and the Histadrut announced that an examination of the forms carried out by Pelephone today found that there was the third necessary by law for the purpose of representation at the company. Pelephone therefore announces that it recognizes the Histadrut as the representative union at Pelephone. The parties will enter into negotiations on a collective agreement. The strike is over immediately and the employees will return to regular work tomorrow.”

The victory follows four months of struggle that culminated in a historic court decision last week in which Israel’s national labour court ruled that an employer cannot intervene, as Pelephone had done, in the right of its employees to form a union.

The organisation of mobile phone workers into a trade union has proven difficult in many countries, making the Histadrut victory important for unions everywhere.