Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trains, Contract Workers and Unions

Israel Railways operate only a few lines, most stations are far from city centers and have no parking. The trains seldom run on schedule, there are either maintenance or development works going on, or strikes. There were numerous train accidents, including collision and fire. Their Maffia-style union has repeatedly disobeyed Labor Court rulings and has acted arrogantly, thinking it can turn the train service off and on at will. The Transport minister is threatening to close the railways down and open them up anew.

Now the union is striking against outsourcing. Although Israelis love to hate the railway union, this time the union is fighting for a just cause. The maintenance work should be done by Israeli workers and not by the Canadian manufacturer. So Minister, if you don't like the existing workers, fire them all and hire new ones but leave the work here!

Many years ago during a job search, I was interviewed at a large state-owned company. They liked me and offered me the job. When we finished negotiating my compensation package, they surprised me with "Now you find yourself an agency to work through, they are basically all the same, here is the list of agencies we work with." Me together with a third of their workforce did the same type of job as their direct employees, worked harder, but made much less. We were not entitled to lunch coupons, to participating in fun days and other direct-employee-only activities and were subject to other humiliating conditions. No matter how good my work was, my status did not allow for any promotion or bonus. There was no future. 

Last week there was a 4-day general strike against employing contract workers. The employers of contract workers are agencies that do nothing for their workers, except exploiting them. The physical workplace tells them what to do and how to do it. Contract workers often work alongside direct employees doing the same job for a fraction of the direct workers' salary. For years and years. Many of these 'transparent' workers are janitors and security guards, but not only. There are IT workers, social workers, and even teachers. And the biggest such workplace is the government. Why do they do this? They claim they want to increase the state income by cutting expenses. What the over-zealous government bureaucrats forgot is that the state is not a for-profit organization. Please take pol-sci-101 again.

In many cases, the state would be better off paying direct employees and not agencies, so why isn't it doing just that? Because of Israel's best kept non-secret: it is almost impossible to fire a unionized worker. According to this twisted logic, the state pays a premium (while the workers earn less) for the option of firing the workers when they are not needed. Dear Union, you brought this unto yourselves, actually onto us! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ichilov Sale: Two for the Price of One

Imagine you are young and generally healthy. You have abdominal pain, are diagnosed with appendicitis and are awaiting surgery. You know it's a minor procedure and you expect to be dismissed  from hospital within a day. Waking up after surgery, you realize you can't breath. That's what happened to Dan a couple of weeks ago.

With Dan in recovery after appendectomy followed by pulmonary edema, Tom got permission from the Army to visit him. He skipped breakfast, took the first bus-train-bus and arrived to the hospital in the morning, a bit before myself. When he saw poor Dan attached to all those needles,wires, tubes and monitors he fainted.

Now if you are about to faint, the best place to do so is in Ichilov's recovery. Seeing him collapsing by his brother's bedside, the nurses asked him whether he suffers from any diseases. Halfway down, he answered 'yes' to the imaginary question "do you feel bad?". The nurses panicked and called a doctor to come and save him. They put him into a bed on the other side of the wall, hooked him to IV and gave him a cup of tea.

Since I was the last one to see Dan the previous night and knowing that visits are extremely restricted in recovery, I offered Peter to be the first one that morning. His "you're stronger', you go" surprised me somewhat, but didn't have time to philosophize too much over it. I headed towards the receptionist and was surprised she had been almost expecting me. The story of the two brothers spread like wildfire in the entire ward. Went in, put on that ridiculous robe and shoe-thing and jumped back and forth between the boys, until Dan was transferred to intensive care and Tom recovered.

After almost a week in hospital (most of it in intensive care) and a small pharmacy in his veins, Dan could breath by himself and was finally dismissed. Tomorrow they take out the stitches.