Begin Intervenes in Strike

Premier Menachem Begin intervened personally in the doctors strike today, for the first time since it began more than four months ago. He summoned Finance Minister Yoram Aridor and Health Minister Eliezer Shostak to the Prime Minister’s Office for a three-way meeting.

Two hours later, Begin received a delegation of six doctors from Soroka Hospital in Beersheba who explained the strikers’ position in the presence of the two ministers. Shostak told reporters later that the doctors had made a “very strong impression” on the Prime Minister. The fact that Aridor stayed behind to confer further with the doctors was considered significant inasmuch as he had refused face-to-face meetings with strikers up to now.

Begin had been urged for some time to exert his personal influence to end the strike. He apparently acted today because of the worsening situation in hospitals around the country where some 1,500 doctors have joined a hunger strike to press their demands for higher salaries. This has created havoc at 23 hospitals where physicians, weak from hunger, have been unable to perform even the limited medical functions that have been carried out during the strike.

Negotiations between the Medical Association and the government were broken off several weeks ago and a bitter feud developed between Aridor and Shostak. The Finance Minister has refused until now to consider more than a 30 percent salary increase for government-employed physicians in order to maintain the national average of 22 percent wage hikes, the ceiling agreed to between the Treasury and Histadrut.

Shostak supports the doctors’ argument that they deserve much more considering that they work as much as a 100 hour week compared to the 35-40 hour work week of most other salaried employes. Aridor accused Shostak and his aides of acting as the “spokesmen for the irresponsible doctors.” The two ministers exchanged personal insults at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, forcing Begin to crack down. Begin, Aridor and Shostak will resume their talks in the Knesset building later today.

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