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Striking Doctors Agree to Return to Their Duties on a Limited Basis

Striking doctors facing stiff penalties if they continued to ignore Health Ministry back-to-work orders, agreed early this morning to return to their duties on a limited basis, beginning this evening.

Their decision ended the medical crisis which has crippled government and Histadrut hospitals for the past two days. But the three month strike by some 7,000 publicly employed physicians is far from settled and the negotiating outlook remained unclear.

The Medical Association announced that it would not resume negotiations until the government offers new proposals for salary increases and improved working conditions; nor would it negotiate further with Finance Minister Yoram Aridor whom the doctors hold personally responsible for the strike impasse. Aridor, who has vowed not to accede to salary demands, warned the doctors today not to try to dictate who will speak for the government on this issue.

CONDITION FOR RETURN TO WORK

The Health Ministry rescinded its back-to-work orders with their threat of criminal prosecution. That was demanded by the doctors as a condition for their return to work. Health Minister Eliezer Shostak, who has been more conciliatory than Aridor, discussed the situation with Premier Menachem Begin this morning and it was announced later that the Cabinet will meet in special session tomorrow to discuss the strike issues.

Shostak said that what is needed now is not new proposals but a new “mood and atmosphere.” Dr. Ram Ishai, president of the Medical Association, agreed that the climate of the talks should be improved but insisted that the government offer new proposals to bring the doctors back to the negotiating table.

Beginning with the evening shift today, hospitals will be staffed by 30 percent of their medical staff. They had been reduced to 10 percent over the weekend when the striking doctors resigned en-masse and “disappeared” on “vacation” to avoid being served with back-to-work orders.

The Attorney General ruled, however, that publication of the orders in the official Gazette and their broadcast by the media was sufficient to make them valid under the law. The orders were read over radio and television last night, followed by the names of the thousands of doctors being called back to work. The maximum penalty for failure to comply is two years imprisonment and a 250,000 Shekel (about $6,000) fine.

SITUATION CLOSE TO NORMAL

Although less than one-third of the medical staffs will be back on duty tonight, the situation will be close to normal. No more than 30 percent of hospital staffs are ever on duty at any one time, the remainder being either off duty, out sick or on vacation.

Hospital directors have appealed to the returning doctors to begin their shifts before the 7 p.m. starting time in order to relieve non-strikers who have been on duty around-the-clock since the walk out began. The latter are mainly senior physicians and department heads.

Histadrut doctors have agreed, meanwhile, to reopen the Kupat Holim (sick-fund) clinics two days a week to deal with medical emergencies and chronically ill patients. The clinics have been closed nearly two months but the doctors continued to treat patients for a fee at “alternative medical service centers.”

The Treasury’s refusal to exceed the 22 percent national wage increase ceiling, agreed to by Histadrut, created the impasse over salaries. Shostak, who concedes that doctors’ salaries should be upgraded considering the abnormal hours they work, has suggested that the Treasury get around the ceiling by recognizing that the Medical Association is independent of Histadrut and had no part in negotiating the ceiling. (See separate story on Salaries.)

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