Protests at Agrexco's Tel Aviv office

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Carl Collen

BY CARL COLLEN

Protests at Agrexco's Tel Aviv office

Workers make a stand over possible cutbacks as court extends Israeli group's stay of proceedings until Tuesday

Protests at Agrexco's Tel Aviv office

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Workers at troubled Israeli fresh produce exporter Agrexco have carried out protests at the group's Tel Aviv office over the possibility that 200 workers may have to take unpaid leave, or even be dismissed.

According to national publication Haaretz, some 300 employees barricaded themselves inside the office, with further protests outside, in response to court-appointed trustee Shlomo Nass' proposed plan to send some workers on unpaid leave, and to fire others.

A written request by Nass to the district court earlier this week suggested that there had been a lack of cooperation from workers, and that these employees had 'bypassed agreements' formed between them and the trustee, burdening the company and leading to a 'significant deficit' in operations.

Nass had presented the workers committee with a list of employees that he was aiming to dismiss in order to reduce costs, while he also suggested sending workers who were 'not needed to run the company at the current volume of activity' on unpaid leave for two weeks.

Shaul Tzivoni, head of Agrexco's workers union, told Haaretz that if workers are fired, they would not receive the severance compensation that they are owed under their collective bargaining agreements, due to the group's precarious financial position.

He called on the treasury to 'stick its hand in its pocket', and added that he could not understand why the government was "choosing not to take a stand" over the Agrexco's position.

Meanwhile, Haartetz revealed that the Tel Aviv district court has agreed to extend Agrexco's stay of proceedings trough until Tuesday, after Judge Varda Alshech decided that sending the company into liquidation would damage all parties involved.

"A liquidation order would badly harm Agrexco, whose value is based on its operations and reputation," she said. "It would mean that all the employees would lose their jobs, as opposed to their current argument with Nass over sending some on unpaid leave."

The financial troubles at Agrexco, which exports Israeli agricultural produce under the Carmel and Alesia brands, first came to light when Israeli publication Globes revealed that rating company Midroog had downgraded the company's bonds by seven grades to a speculative B1 with a negative outlook.

The downgrade was attributed to a "substantial worsening" in Agrexco's business results and a one-time €16.7m write-down in assets.

Globes also reported that Agrexco has debts of €106m, including €35.2m to Israeli banks, €6m to foreign banks, €27.3m to bondholders, €2.1m to employees and local authorities, and €58m to uninsured creditors including suppliers and customers.

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