Employees Of Israel’s Arkia Protest For Immediate Return To Work

Yesterday, employees of Israel’s second-largest airline took to Setai Hotel in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to protest their right to work. Demonstrators included pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and other staff of Arkia.

Arkia Getty Images Israel
All of Arkia’s employees have been put on no-pay leave since March. Photo: Getty Images

These protests have been going on for over a week at several locations. Most locations were of interest to the owners of the airline, the three Nakash brothers. The Nakash family owns the Setai Hotel, and the port of Eilat, where a 4-hour strike took place last week.

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The Nakash brothers – Joseph, Avi, and Rafael – hold a 70% stake in the Israeli airline. In March, the trio grounded Arkia’s entire fleet following the state’s travel restrictions.

Furthermore, a statement sent to Simple Flying reported the brothers turned down a government loan, which would help Arkia shoulder its financial losses due to the pandemic. These actions angered the employees, 540 of which are currently on unpaid leave.

Protests started in July

Employee protests began at the end of July, in several prominent locations around the city’s capital. The biggest demonstration took place close to the chairman’s private residence, as well as directly in front of Arkia’s headquarters.

Arkia Employees protest
Arkia employees have been protesting for a right to work since July 29th. Photo: Rimon Cohen & Co.

In a statement sent to Simple Flying, Arkia National Workers’ Committee Chairperson, Aliza Balaish spoke out about the situation. She said,

“Arkia is our home. For the past 70 years, we have been operating flights to and from Israel. Now, under the pretext of COVID-19, the owners, the Nakash brothers, have decided to shut us down. The Nakash family is drying up Arkia on purpose.”

She questioned the decisions of the Nakash brothers, who have rejected a state-backed loan for $38m, and refuses to allow employees to resume work. Instead, all staff members have not received remuneration for four months and counting. Rejecting the government bailout puts Arkia on the brink of closure.

Arkia Employees Protest
Protestors are fighting for Arkia’s survival outside Setai Hotel. Photo: Rimon Cohen & Co.

Balaish proceeded to call out the Nakash team for their neglect and ignorance towards Arkia’s employees. She added,

“How is it possible that other Israeli airlines are already in operation but we are still grounded with most of our workers kept on unpaid leave? We urge the owners to remember that behind these names there are people, families and a prestigious brand.”

For instance, El Al, the country’s flag carrier, is planning a return to the skies. Contingent on approval from the Health Ministry, El Al may resume select flights as soon as September.

Who are the Nakash brothers?

Joseph, Rafael, and Abraham “Avi” Nakash are prominent entrepreneurs in Israel and the US. Collectively, they own denim-clothing brand Jordache Enterprises Group. The brand came to fruition in New York City in 1969.

In 2006, the Nakash brothers bought a 70% share in Arkia. The stake had belonged to Knafaim Holdings, an Israeli-based air aviation services organization.

The worker’s council, headed by economist Yaron Zelekha, owns the remaining 30%.

Currently, the brothers hold investments in various hotels and real estate. For instance, they own shares in the Salina hostel brand, Eilat Port, and Ampa Real Estate. Last year, Israel Travel News reported that Jordache Enterprises aims to open up six new Israeli hotels over the next few years.

No flights till 2021

Last month, chairman Avi Homero stated that Arkia would not fly until after Passover 2021. Passover, the annual weeklong Jewish holiday, usually occurs in March or April. This effectively means that Arkia will be grounded entirely for slightly over a year. Inevitably, this has made employees antsy.

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Israel airline Arkia may not operate a flight for the rest of 2020. Photo: Alf van Beem

Zelekha, on the other hand, believes that Arkia should fly as soon as Israel’s airspace reopens. As cited in Globes,

“From our [worker’s council] point of view, we will return to operations immediately that the skies reopen.”

At the same time, the airline has returned one of its Airbus A321neo aircraft to a US lessor, in a bid to keep afloat. The remaining five aircraft – three Embraers and A321neos – are all the airline has left.

What do you make of the protests? When do you think Arkia will start flying again? Let us know in the comments.