Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced last Wednesday that two tenders for the construction and operation of two new deep water container terminals will be issued by July 1, signaling the government intention to move forward with reforming Israel’s ports.
According to the Transportation Ministry statement, the two tenders will be issued simultaneously, however the jobs will be scheduled separately.
Katz and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have yet to decide whether the new port, which will be called Port Haatid ("Future"), will be built in Haifa or Ashdod.
Although Government is still to decide which port will open first it is widely understood that Ashdod will be the first to open.
Despite harsh criticism from union officials representing longshoremen, Katz stated “A tender will be published for the construction of a new port that will compete with the existing ports, bringing down costs and the cost of living.”
For years the government has been trying to privatise or open privately run piers to compete with the two major Mediterranean ports of Ashdod and Haifa, but it has been unwilling to risk a confrontation with the port unions.
The tenders signal the Israeli government’s intent to move forward with reforming the nation’s ports, after pledging to end the monopolies of the ports of Ashdod and Haifa. Nearly all of Israel’s exports and imports are transported by ship, and the government has declared war on the powerful workers unions at the state-run ports of Ashdod and Haifa, blaming their iron grip and propensity to strike for poor service and high prices of goods.
Katz also noted that he has decided to put an end to the situation of militant committees taking advantage of their power and receiving excessive privileges at the expense of the general public," The Transportation Ministry’s refusal to hold talks with the workers committees before the two tenders are issued is expected to lead to work disruptions at the ports and possibly a general strike. In the event that the workers committees escalate sanctions or go on extended strike, the government will be drafting a law to prevent a port strike mandating compulsory arbitration and a ban on strikes in essential services, including the ports.
The Israel Ports Development and Assets Company, meanwhile, is making preparations for a long strike. Its plans to use smaller ports and overland border crossings instead of the main ports. Cargo could be unloaded at Israel Shipyards sites in Haifa bay or Israel Electric Company coal facilities in Hadera or at Jordan's Aqaba Port where it could be shipped overland to neighboring Eilat.