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ECI flouted promise, say dismissed workers

Company sources deny claim that ECI flouted commitment to freeze dismissals

Dozens of unionized workers at

ECI Telecom

(Nasdaq:ECIL) were today given letters of dismissal. Their representatives say the move contradicted CEO Doron Inbar's commitment of just yesterday to freeze dismissals.

Top-level sources at the company deny that any such commitment to freeze dismissals was made. The company spokeswoman refused to comment.

The labor representatives add that Inbar flew abroad Monday night. CFO Avi BenAssayag refused to intervene, saying the company's legal counsel had directed that the letters of dismissal be handed out.

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The union representatives advised the dismissed workers to return the letters to their managers. Legal advisors of both sides the company and the workers met today at 13:00 Israel time. The workers feel cheated, said labor representative Haim Ben-Shlush, saying ECI had flouted its promise mere hours after giving it.

Yesterday Inbar reportedly promised to freeze 120 letters of dismissal after a mass protest of 700 workers collected outside his office.

Out of ECI's 4,500 employees, 800 are members of the Histadrut union, the biggest and most powerful labor federation in Israel. These employees came from Tadiran Telecommunications, which ECI took over in 1998.

At a meeting that began Sunday night, ECI's management demanded that the labor representatives consent to the dismissal of 120 workers among the unionized staff. ECI's management tried to hand the labor representatives a list of names designated for dismissal, but the representatives refused to accept it and the talks collapsed, leading to the noisy protest outside Inbar's office.

ECI's unionized workers have formally declared two labor disputes in respect to the company's plan to split up into five independent companies. The first, declared in early December, was directly related to fears of mass dismissals. The organized workers claimed that under their collective employment agreement, only 120 people could be fired over six years. The second dispute was declared at the end of last month in a last-ditch move to halt the splitup and streamlining of the company.