Striking Doctors Return to Jobs, As Talks with Government Resume

Doctors at government and municipal hospitals resumed their normal work schedules Tuesday morning, ending — at least for the moment — seven months of strikes and sanctions that have crippled public health services in Israel.

The doctors announced their return at midnight, after the Health and Finance ministries agreed to negotiate the disputed issues without preconditions.

But the health care crisis is far from over. The nurses union and doctors employed by Histadrut’s health insurance agency, Kupat Holim, remain embroiled in bitter labor disputes and are curtailing their services.

Health Minister Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino announced late Monday night that the government was prepared to negotiate with the state-employed physicians on the understanding that “each side was aware of the position of the other side.”

That ended the standoff that developed Sunday when a near agreement fell apart, because the Treasury refused to talk to the doctors unless they first called off their job actions.

The nurses union has resorted to hunger strikes and mass “vacations” to press its demand for a 28 percent increase in the size of the nursing staffs at state hospitals. The government has offered to hire 24 percent more nurses, but the union says that is not enough.

The nurses began their hunger strike outside the Prime Minister’s Office two weeks ago, subsisting on a liquid diet. But their numbers dwindled as hunger took its toll.

Two more nurses collapsed Tuesday, leaving only one to maintain their vigil. She is Ilana Cohen, a member of the strike committee, who is supported by a steady stream of fellow nurses and sympathetic doctors.

The Kupat Holim doctors are applying work sanctions to force their employers to reinstate salary increases agreed to last year.

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