Israeli ports are bracing for industrial action, including strikes, as labor unions weigh their response to planned reforms of the waterfront.
The Israeli government last week issued tenders for two private container terminals in Haifa and Ashdod that would compete with heavily unionized facilities in the nation’s largest ports.
The private terminals will be able to handle the largest vessels of more than 18,000 twenty foot equivalent units compared with the 9,500 TEUs maximum at existing facilities.
The Israel Ports Company, which is handling the bidding process, says current facilities will run out of capacity by 2017-18, as traffic is forecast to grow at an annual rate of more than 5 percent through the decade.
The private terminals form part of the government’ strategy to break what it views as the union stranglehold over the state-owned ports of Haifa and Ashdod that has resulted in low productivity and high costs for exporters and importers.
The terminals will each cost around $1.1 billion and have an annual capacity of 1.4 million TEUs.
The Histadrut labour federation, which has fought reforms at other ports and state monopolies, has yet to give an official response to the government’s decision to issue the tenders for private terminals.
The government has thrown down the gauntlet to the unions. “Nobody will stop us. I am not prepared to accept this monopoly, it’s over,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Two thousand people will not be allowed to have a stranglehold on us and shut down the economy at their will. Nothing will deter us.” Netanyahu said the tenders have attracted great international interest.
Transport minister Israel Katz said strikes aimed at stopping the reforms would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” to which the government would respond with equal determination.
Katz said the new terminals, located in a center of stability in a troubled region, would transform Israel into a global hub for shipping.