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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Unions end Israeli general strike
Passenger at Ben Gurion airport Tel Aviv
Thousands of passengers at Ben Gurion airport were hit by the strike
Unions in Israel have ended a damaging two-day general strike, which saw air traffic, financial markets and public services brought to a standstill.

The dispute over the delayed payment of wages involved some 400,000 public sector workers.

A labour court ordered striking staff back to work and told the government to pay months of back salaries.

Banks, public hospitals, city morgues, postal services and transport facilities were all hit by the strike.

Austerity plan

Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport was closed to outgoing travellers, stranding thousands of people.

This is a day we can all be proud of - we are ending this struggle
Amir Peretz, Histadrut labour federation

The strike, organised by the Histadrut labour federation, followed demands by Israel's right-wing Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that debt-ridden local authorities agree to a strict austerity plan before receiving a bail-out package for about 20,000 workers.

Some of the workers had not been paid in a year, unions said.

Israel's Civil Aviation Administration said two international flights had landed on Wednesday, while outgoing flights would resume later in the day.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange said it would restart trading on Thursday.

Back to work

Both sides claimed victory in the dispute, which was Israel's third nationwide strike since April 2003.

Amir Peretz, the head of Histadrut, welcomed the decision of the court in ordering the back payment of salaries to its members.

"This is a day we can all be proud of. We are ending this struggle," he said.

But Israel's finance ministry also welcomed the ruling, saying it linked payments to regional governments which agreed to embark on a recovery plan.

"We are glad that the national labour court has ordered all strikers back to work," Yuval Rachlevsky, the ministry's head of wage and labour agreements, told Israel Radio.

Before the strike, business leaders warned that the workers' action would cost Israel's economy about one billion shekels ($223m; 124m) a day.

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