Usually, Ben Gurion Airport operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year – except for Yom Kippur – much to the disappointment of many observant Jews. But this Shabbat, Ben Gurion will become “Sabbath Observant,” as workers walk off the job for 24 hours, from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday.
The motivation for taking the day off, however, is not religious, but labor-related. Unionized workers at the airport have been demanding that several hundred “contract workers” – employees who are not protected by union guarantees – be given official full-time jobs, complete with pensions and other benefits covered under the union contract.
The walk-off is the first action taken by the union after it declared a “work dispute” with airport management. Under Israeli law, such declarations are required in order to legally call a strike.
August is traditionally the busiest month at Ben Gurion, and although Saturday is not as busy as other days – El Al, which accounts for half the flights into and out of Israel, does not operate on the Sabbath – the strike is going to require mass rescheduling of dozens of flights, which will cause delays during the upcoming working week, airport officials said.
Effectively, all services – including incoming and outgoing flights, luggage handling, janitorial work, and duty-free sales – will be shut down for the Day of Rest, with only emergency “life saving” services provided – as provided for in Jewish law on the Sabbath, when labor to preserve or save lives is permitted, and required.
“Negotiations have gone nowhere,” said one union official. “We all need a day off to think about how we progress, and the Sabbath is a good day to take off.”