By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s main public-sector labor union went on a half-day strike on Sunday, closing the airport, the stock exchange, banks and all government ministries as part of a protest against mass layoffs planned by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TA:).
The debt-ridden Teva (N:), one of Israel’s largest companies and the world’s largest generics drugmaker, last week said it would cut its global workforce by more than a quarter, or 14,000 jobs.
Some 1,700 jobs will be cut and a manufacturing site will be closed in Israel, prompting anger from unions and politicians, who believe Teva’s employees should not pay for the company’s failed investments abroad.
Sunday is the beginning of the Israeli work week. Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike until 12:00 pm (1000 GMT) and many held solidarity rallies outside Teva facilities.
The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange shortened its trading day, opening at 1 pm and will close as usual at about 4:30 pm. Teva’s shares were unchanged at 1245 GMT.
Departing flights – mainly to Europe – at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport between 8 am and at least 12 pm were either canceled or delayed. Similarly, no flights were be allowed to land until after 12 pm.
Trains and buses were initially supposed to strike as well, but the Histadrut labor federation decided to allow public transit to operate so that soldiers could get back to their bases, as they typically do on Sunday mornings.
“We are fighting on behalf of Teva’s workers to save Israel’s industry … and to convey the message that layoffs are the last and not the first step in the public and private sectors,” said Histadrut chief Avi Nissenkorn.
He called the current crisis the fault of Teva’s management and board, adding: “It is the state’s responsibility to prevent thousands of Israeli families from paying the price for this.”
At the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he planned to meet with Kare Schultz, Teva’s chief executive, this week to try and minimize the blow to workers.
“We need to do everything possible to prevent the closure of plants in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told his ministers, adding Teva should remain based in Israel.
“It employs thousands of workers,” he said. “It started as an Israeli company and we want it to remain as an Israeli company. We will use various means at our disposal to try and achieve these goals.” He did not elaborate.
Saddled with nearly $35 billion in debt since acquiring Allergan’s (N:) Actavis generic drug business for $40.5 billion, Teva made a series of changes after Schultz joined as its new chief executive on Nov. 1.
Its two-year restructuring plan is intended to reduce Teva’s cost base by $3 billion by the end of 2019, out of an estimated cost base for 2017 of $16.1 billion.
Netanyahu called Schultz last week, asking that he keep layoffs in Israel to a minimum. Schultz said Teva would maintain its headquarters in Israel.
Nissenkorn said he would meet with Israel’s finance and economy ministers, along with the Teva workers union, on Monday.