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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 05:02 GMT 06:02 UK
Israeli workers resume strike
A stranded traveller at Ben-Gurion airport
Flights out of Ben-Gurion Airport were delayed again

Israeli workers in government offices are back on strike after unsuccessful talks between the unions and the finance ministry.

The workers returned to a full strike after scaling back their action last week during talks between the two sides.

The original action was called by the Histadrut labour federation 10 days ago after Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu unveiled 10% cuts across the board for ministry budgets.

Mr Netanyahu and Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz met on Sunday to try to move forward in discussions over the proposed economic plan.

But despite seven hours of talks, they made little progress in bridging the gulf between the two sides' positions.

And Mr Peretz warned that the strike could widen to embrace the whole public sector again on Tuesday, unless the government shows signs of compromise by Monday evening.

Limited standstill

At the centre of the dispute are Mr Netanyahu's proposed pay cuts for public sector workers.

The finance ministry is proposing cuts of between 8-9% while reports have suggested the Histadrut will accept a 4% reduction.

The measures are part of the government's 11bn shekel ($2.4bn; 1.5bn) economic plan, aimed at resuscitating the country's worst ever recession and reducing a 16bn shekel hole in the country's finances.

A spokesman for the Histadrut said on Sunday that 55,000 workers had walked out from offices including the Interior Ministry, National Insurance Institute (NII) and many other services.

Earlier, Mr Peretz had accused Mr Netanyahu of dragging his feet in negotiations so that parliament would vote on the proposed economic plan before the crisis was resolved.

More delays

Workers at Ben-Gurion International airport joined the striking public sector workers on Sunday afternoon, meaning delays for most outgoing flights.

Staff also held up the loading and off-loading of baggage from incoming and departing flights.

In addition, customs workers are threatening not to release goods arriving at the country's air and sea ports, while welfare services won't be provided and parking fines won't be issued.

Schools were open after an agreement was reached between the Teachers Association and the education and finance ministries.

The teachers agreed not to strike in return for the education ministry's promise not to sack teachers who are union members.

The initial two-day strike 10 days ago, launched in response to the parliament's first vote on the economic package, had paralysed the country after 700,000 workers shut down much of Israel's infrastructure.

Two more votes are needed for the package to become law.

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