A surprise strike at the Haifa and Ashdod ports which started on Wednesday over the decision to open the shipping market for competition continued on Thursday despite the Labor Court's orders to the employees to return to work.
The workers' strike was time with a signing ceremony planned for Thursday afternoon with Chinese and Dutch companies which won the contracts to build and operate new ports in Haifa and Ashdod that would open at the beginning of the next decade.
The ceremony, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, will be attended by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, the Dutch and Chinese ambassadors to Israel, senior executives from the Chinese and Dutch companies, and senior executives from the Israel Ports company.
"They haven't been talking to us for a year and a half, the Histadrut sold us out, and the new ports will destroy us," the workers union said.
"The reforms will continue and promote competition and lead to the lowering of the cost of living," the transportation minister said in response to the workers. "The contracts will be sign in any case and turn Israel into an international terminal for sea transport. Strikes and threats have not deterred me so far and will not deter me in the future."
The representatives of the Haifa Port workers failed to show up to a late night hearing at the Haifa Labor Court that discussed the port management's request to order the employees to return to work. Judge Alexander Kogan ordered the employees to return to work at 4:30 am, but they ignored the court order.
Ynet learned that the employees did not intend to show up to a hearing on Thursday morning despite the threats of "drastic measures" being taken against them.
The Histadrut workers union said the strike was not approved by it and that the port workers' unions broke contact with them.
The head of transportation workers in the Histadrut, Avi Edri, said, "The Histadrut has always supported the righteous fight of the Israeli port employees and will continue to do so. However, the Histadrut calls on the port workers to honor the decisions made at the labor courts and return to work."
There are currently six ships docked at the Haifa Port, with the work of unloading and reloading them halted, while six others are in waiting docked at the Haifa Bay.
The Be'er Sheva Labor Court, meanwhile, determined on Thursday morning that all Ashdod Port employees must return to work and that any instruction given by their union was null and void.
Eighteen ships are waiting to be unloaded and reloaded in the docks at the Ashdod Port, while seven others were waiting at sea.
The workers union said Wednesday that "due to continued violations of the rights of the port workers done by the transportation minister and the government of Israel, the workers of the Ashdod and Haifa ports decided to launch a strike. The workers see how the government of Israel undermines their livelihoods, their rights and their future and that of their families."
A source at the Haifa Port said the unions met in Tel Aviv on Wednesday because they feel the state is dragging its feet on negotiations with them while at the same time planning to celebrate the fact the Chinese and Dutch won the contract to operate the new terminals in a big ceremony at the Ashdod Port.
"The negotiations are being dragged on and no one is talking to the workers, while at the same time they're celebrating with the Chinese," the source said.
Ofer Petersburg, Lior Al-Hai and Billie Frenkel contributed to this report.