Staff at Israeli operator Cellcom walked out in protest over plans to slash its workforce as part of a programme of cost reductions, after the nation’s largest trade union held an emergency meeting to discuss the decision.

Union Histadrut slammed Cellcom management over their handling of the move and pledged a vigorous challenge to the layoffs, beginning with the commencement of a formal labour dispute with the operator.

In a translated statement, the organisation’s chairman Arnon Bar-David blasted “the brutal and emotionless conduct” of Cellcom CEO Nir Sztern towards the company’s staff, adding the executive had violated a code of conduct agreed with the operator’s workers and Histadrut.

“The insensitivity displayed by Cellcom’s management is no less than outrageous behaviour, and in 2019 Israel cannot accept such a behaviour,” Bar-David said.

Maya Yaniv, chair of Cellcom’s employee organisation, added a crisis in the mobile industry won’t be solved by layoffs, arguing management should focus on working with the Ministry of Communications to solve the “severe market failures”.

In response, Cellcom branded the strike “unlawful”, noting the emergency meeting only cleared workers to take industrial action no sooner than 10 October. Instead, staff had initiated a sudden strike “encompassing the vast majority of the company’s operations”.

The operator added it will take measures to minimise “adverse effects to the company’s operations but cannot assure their success.”

Cellcom announced the move earlier this week, stating it was necessary to improve its financial position in an effort to boost its competitiveness in a market characterised by low prices.