Breaking: Israeli airlines call off strike after security deal with government



Israeli airlines workers shout slogans during a demonstration outside the prime minister's office on April 21, 2013 in Jerusalem as staff mounted a strike in protest against plans to ink an Open Skies deal with European carriers. Israel's three airlines -- El Al, Arkia and Israir -- are bitterly opposed to the deal which was to be ratified by the cabinet on Sunday, saying it would result in widespread layoffs.


Gali Tibbon

JERUSALEM — Israel's airlines have called off a strike that had nearly paralyzed air travel here since early Sunday following an agreement with government negotiators, El Al airline announced Monday.

The deal reached Monday includes a government subsidy that would cover almost all the airlines' security costs.

Israel's three national airline companies El Al, Arkia and Israir called the strike Sunday in protest of the Israeli Cabinet's approval of the "Open Skies" aviation deal with the European Union aimed at opening up new flight routes and lowering prices.

Th airline employees union argued that the agreement, while "leveling the playing field" between Israeli and international airlines, overlooks the particular circumstances of Israeli carriers. They include whopping security bills, which total an annual $33 million for El Al alone, Haaretz newspaper reported.

The government argues that Israel cannot ignore international conventions.

The Manufacturer's Association of Israel filed a petition to the national labor court to prevent the total airport shutdown, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The Israeli economy is dependent on imports and exports, which rely in part on airport services," the petition said. "The strike damages the industry, since merchandise cannot be freely brought in and out of Israel."

Haaretz reported that Ben Gurion International Airport was going to shut down completely from 5 a.m. Tuesday as Airport Authority workers planned to launch a solidarity strike with airline workers.

Thousands of travelers were stranded due to the strikes, notes The Associated Press, which reported that an El Al spokeswoman said travelers who couldn't find alternate flights would be issued a refund.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded Open Skies deal, which had been on the table for years. “We will continue to bring about reforms that will reduce the cost of living and make services to citizens of Israel more efficient,” he said.

His finance minister, Yair Lapid, agreed, claiming the measure "will not harm work places in the market, rather the opposite." Open Skies is set to come into effect in April 2014, he added.