JERUSALEM — Israeli unions announced on Sunday they were ending a general strike on its fifth day, after reaching an agreement with treasury officials that will boost salaries and benefits for contract workers.
At a joint news conference, the head of the Histadrut trade union confederation and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced they had signed an accord to improve the conditions of contract workers employed in the public sector.
A deal on the rights of contract workers was reached with private employers earlier in the week, but the government -- said to employ the bulk of the contract workers -- had been reluctant to sign a similar deal.
Steinitz said the agreement would provide broader pension entitlements, holiday pay, and subsidised workplace meals.
"It's a ground-breaking agreement," Histadrut chief Ofer Eini said.
Until now, contract employees received lower salaries than permanent staff colleagues, had few benefits, and could be fired without notice.
A Histadrut statement said that the new accords would see "thousands" of contract workers taken on as full staff members by both public and private sector employers.
The website of Israel's Haaretz daily challenged that number.
"Of the hundreds of thousands of subcontracted workers in Israel, only about 800 are likely to be directly hired, mostly in the health-care system," it wrote.
"Cleaners and security guards will not be hired directly in most cases, but they will receive a 20 percent hike in wages and social benefits, increasing their pay to that of their counterparts who work directly for the government."
In return, the paper said, the unions committed themselves not to call another general strike for a period of three years.
Before the deal was reached, rubbish had been piling up on streets and drivers of the national bus corporation had joined the strike, disrupting travel on the first day of the Israeli working week.
Ben Gurion international airport, railways and harbours were open on Sunday, and government offices and banks were to resume service during the course of the day.
The issue of contract workers has been simmering for months, with the Histadrut staging a four-hour strike in the same dispute in November.
The Israeli government had been reluctant to make broad concessions, saying equalising pay and conditions for contract and full-time staff would be too costly and could damage the national economy.