Israeli port workers started an open-ended strike on Monday at three seaports that are crucial for trade and the broader economy after wage negotiations with the finance ministry failed.
A spokeswoman for the Histadrut labour federation, the umbrella organisation for Israel's public sector workers, said all three of Israel's seaports were closed, with no unloading of cargo taking place at Haifa and Ashdod on the Mediterranean and Eilat on the Red Sea.
Israel's economy heavily relies on foreign trade, which accounts for some 45 per cent of its economic activity. Much of that trade comes via the seaports.
"The strike at the ports -- which are a lifeline to Israel's imports and exports - may have damaging effects if it continues beyond a reasonable period of time," Zvi Plada, head of the Manufacturers' Association's transport division, told Israel Radio.
"It is difficult for us to evaluate the damage at this point - it depends how long the strike will go on," he said.
The Histadrut spokeswoman said port workers are seeking a raise of 9 per cent, or 3 per cent a year for three years. They also want workers who began after the ports were reformed in 2005 to receive an extra 5 per cent raise that was given to port workers at the time.
In November, Israel's 700,000 public service workers received a 6.25 per cent raise over three and a half years. But port workers were not included in the deal.
The Histadrut is hoping for a quick resumption of negotiations to end the strike soon, the spokeswoman said.
The finance ministry criticised the strikers, saying port workers had received a 35 per cent raise as part of the reforms. It also noted that workers who began after 2005 have seen their wages on average rise by 50 per cent in five years.
"We regret that the Histadrut again chooses to strengthen the monopolies and the high wage earners at the expense of neglecting the weaker sectors," the ministry said in a statement.