On Wednesday September 9, 2015, Movilei Dror, one of biggest Road Haulage Companies in Israel, has announced that it will recognize WAC-MAAN as the representative union for its drivers and will be willing to enter negotiations. Previously the company made several failed attempts to stop the drivers from organizing with the union.
This change of heart followed a WAC-MAAN declaration of a labour dispute and its announcement that on September 16th it will start a strike unless the company sit with the union. WAC-MAAN and the truck drivers’ Action Committee (AC), representing 160 Jewish and Arab drivers, have welcomed the announcement as a major achievement.
Negotiations between the two sides started on Sept. 17 in the HQ of the company in the Caesarea Industrial Zone. The negotiating team of the union included two members of the AC – drivers Tsahi AL-Karif and Shimshon Karilker, WAC-MAAN National Director Assaf Adiv and Adv. Amir Basha. The company team was headed by Mr. Gadi Lotan, a former high official of the Histadrut who now runs an independent consultancy for labour negotiations. Together with him there were Zion Shemesh – director of Human Resources in the company, Assaf Shalev – a leading manager, and Adv. Galia Klinman.
Movilei Dror negotiators committed themselves in this meeting to a businesslike approach and declared their readiness to work with the union towards a collective agreement for the truck drivers in the company. WAC-MAAN’s director Assaf Adiv put forward the union demands. Adiv explained that the haulage industry in Israel is a key factor in the country’s economy, and yet truck drivers are considered to be nonprofessional workers, while their job conditions and salaries are based on this assumption. WAC’s proposal for a collective agreement is therefore to overhaul the pay system of the drivers, which is currently based nationwide on a very low basic pay accompanied by unregulated bonuses. WAC aims at characterizing truck drivers as professional workers with all the benefits that following from this category.
At present, most drivers in the company, experienced or not, earn less than NIS 6,500 (70% of the average salary in Israel), despite often working over 12 hours a day (the legal limit). There is no proper overtime scale, expenses are nominal, and bonus payments (called premia) are calculated in an arbitrary way without explanation. In addition, deductions for pension funds, as well as for insurance in case of death or loss of ability to work, are on a low basis. The workers’ demands to Movilei Dror are twofold: The first is to upgrade drivers to a level of professional worker with proper salary and social benefits. The second is to compensate the drivers for the lack of payments according to the law in the past. According to WAC’s calculation the average loss of each worker due to lack of adherence to the law by Movilei Dror has been at least NIS 1300-1500 monthly (350 Euro).
Movilei Dror Co. is one of the biggest and most successful haulage companies in Israel. Among its regular clients are leading chains such as Ikea, HP, Delta, L’Oréal, Plextronics, and Pachmas Industries. The company dates back to the 1940’s. It employs more than 160 drivers in both heavy and light trucks (above and below 15 tons). The company operates from four branches in Caesarea, Migdal Ha’emeq, Ashdod Port, and Ben Gurion Airport. In case WAC MAAN succeeds in signing a collective agreement here it will open the way for other drivers to demand a better wage agreement and in this way break the 25 years detrimental payments’ arrangement.
The fact that a major Haulage company recognized WAC-MAAN as a representative union and started negotiations with the union is in itself a major achievement. This comes as no coincidence. For more than five years WAC worked to organize truckers in order to end the bleak job conditions and the anarchy that mark the haulage sector in Israel. Out of about 15,000 drivers of heavy trucks, only about 1200 are organized within the Histadrut, and the collective agreement for this branch is detrimental, leaving the drivers exposed to managerial manipulations. According the current agreement that we call the “Premia System” half of the drivers’ salary is based on bonuses, which are arbitrary payments that they cannot calculate or count on. This system is the nightmare of truck drivers in Israel and it is about time to put an end to it.
The unorganized truckers include three main groups: veteran Israeli Jews, Russians whose Hebrew is not fluent, and Arabs. The inner divisions among these groups, along with the fact that each driver spends most of the workday alone, plus the great power of the haulage companies together make it extremely hard to organize. The resulting situation is anarchic, with drivers being forced to work extra hours, often beyond the legal limit. This endangers their lives and the lives of all who use the roads.
When we at WAC-MAAN undertook to organize this sector, we knew we would face these difficulties. We were helped as a new union by guidance and support, over a period of five years, by the Dutch Union Federation FNV Bondgenoten. In 2007 A delegation headed by FNV Bondgenoten President Hank van der Kolk visited Israel before the start of the project and saw the potential for building WAC-MAAN as a union capable of coping with the debacle that organized labour.
After much internal discussion and study, in the years 2007–2010 WAC developed its plan. It changed its bylaws to increase its internal democracy and began to act as an independent union. During this period we tried several times to organize truckers without success. Amid these attempts, an important ruling of the Regional Labour Court in Tel Aviv recognized WAC-MAAN as a new labour union. Yet we were still not able to gain representational status and to achieve a collective agreement.
Against this background—and especially amid the current tensions in Israel—the fact that Jewish and Arab truckers are joining WAC-MAAN is significant. The creation of a Workers Committee in the Movilei Dror Haulage Company amounts to an important breakthrough both for the truckers and WAC-MAAN.