El Al workers protest deal to take money from compensation fund

El Al employees furious as company petitions to withdraw tens of millions from their compensation fund.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Hundreds of El Al employees demonstrated outside the Bat Yam Labor Court Thursday protesting a request by the national airline to pull money from the workers’ compensation fund.

Reeling financially from the near-worldwide shutdown of international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s national airline applied to the Labor Court for permission to use 115 million shekels ($33 million) from the fund to help it keep operating, Globes reported.

El Al’s recovery plan includes the permanent layoff of one third of its workforce of some 6,000, including pilots. In March the company was forced to furlough 80 percent of its workers when international air travel ground to a halt.

“El Al employees are not victims of corona. El Al employees are the most loyal to our country, to society and to their place of work,” said Sharon Ben Yitzhak, chairman of the El Al workers committee. “All we want is for them to listen to us, to understand that the solutions are with us.”

Ben Yitzhak said it was not acceptable that the airline workers were being asked for their money, but not El Al’s owners or management.

“It will not happen, we will not give it, and for that we are here,” he said.

The court is hearing both sides of the request to withdraw the money from the workers’ compensation fund that was opened by the state when privatization of the company started in 2003 and in which over 500 million shekels ($143 million) is currently deposited.

The Ministry of Finance approved withdrawing money from the fund, and while the national Histadrut trade union also approved, the El Al workers objected until a full compensation package can be worked out to their satisfaction.

El Al Pilots Committee chairman Ran Alkabetz said that as far as the pilots were concerned, El Al should be allowed to withdraw funds. Pilots already announced they agreed to a 20 percent wage cut knowing that with the expected drop in flights over the next two years they will be earning about half of their wage level.

Aside from the job cuts, the streamlining plan will bring at least a 25 percent cut in the airline’s activity.

“Among workers there are sectors that are closer to agreement, and some further away,” Alkabetz admitted.

The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Israel office, Koby Sussman, said airlines in general are going to have a tough time making money when flights resume, as coronavirus restrictions are expected to include leaving spaces between passengers, so planes will only be 60 percent full.

“In a natural situation, an airline needs between 70 percent and 80 percent [capacity] to make the first dollar,” Sussman said.

Sussman estimated that a serious level of international flights won’t resume until August, but at lower levels than previously and to fewer destinations.

“It will take at least two years before we get back to the pre-corona numbers. Everything is going to change,” he said.

On Thursday El Al announced additional passenger flights from New York and Toronto in May, but only Israeli passport holders would be allowed to fly. The company also announced that the interruption of all its other flights due to the pandemic would continue until at least May 16.