Let's start with the good news, which is that the workers of the Israel Electric Corporation are sensitive. They are so sensitive that they agreed to discuss reducing their consumption of free-as-the-air power, which is paid for by the rest of the people of Israel, through their tax bills.
To quote - "¿out of sensitivity to the growing gaps in Israeli society, especially these days¿"
How noble! Especially after the IEC's losses soared to half a billion shekel in the last quarter, and the company announced a rate hike of "only" 6.5%, instead of the 15% price increase it had asked for.
Yet we the people don't sense that much sensitivity, more a sense of common sense.
Let's look at the figures. The cost of the free electricity per worker is NIS 400 a month, or, NIS 4,800 a year. Multiply that by the IEC's 13,600 staffers and retirees: Now we've reached NIS 65 million a year.
While on the subject of this perk, note that IEC workers are entitled to 25,000 free megawatts a year. According to the company's own data, that's double the amount the richest 10% of Israelis use.
Apparently the company's workers have needs, though. We may assume they weren't trained as toddlers to turn out the lights when they left the room. "Daddy works for the 'lectric company," they'd probably lisp as Mommy proudly watched them waddle in the glare of 200-watt bulbs.
It is common practice around the world for companies to pamper their workers with easy access to their product. El Al grants free flights, chocolate companies lavish pralines. Banks grant cheap loans. But the IEC, apparently, has no boundaries, and is taxing the taxpayer's patience.
So the company announces that its considerate workers agreed to discuss reducing their discount. That doesn't mean there have been results. The workers are represented by a powerful union headed by one Yoram Oberkovich, which is a master at guarding its interests.
Examples? Please. The IEC workers consistently lead the list of the highest-paid functionaries in the civil service, with average monthly pay of NIS 16,000. About 20 of them earn more than NIS 50,000 a month.
True, there are a few positions in the steadily shrinking hi-tech world where people earn more. But unlike the hi-techies, who could lose their jobs any day, jobs at the government-controlled electricity monopoly are for life, which is pretty important these days.
When else does the IEC lead lists? During the holidays, of course. This year too they won with NIS 1,300 a man in gifts from their employer. Granted, some of that was financed by their union, but it's still an especially aggravating sum.
More wonders courtesy of their union. Want to discuss privatization? First reach a deal with the union. Early retirement? Get a copy of the union's list of demands.
The IEC union has so much clout that it can even fight legislative proposals. MK Avraham Poraz initiated a bill that awaits its first of three votes, under which veteran IEC employees would keep their perk of free electricity, up to a ceiling double the average household use of power. But new employees would have to pay for all their power use. Nice idea, but we're waiting for Oberkovich to flex his muscle. Or maybe the bill will serve as a basis for talks.
In any case, everything that reduces the cost of the IEC staffers to the taxpayer is welcome, and the union's agreeing to cooperate certainly demonstrates a willingness to share in the national burden. We the people, meanwhile, as the talks meander on, continue to pay the full rates. Plus 6.5%.