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Doctors Stage Warning Strike, As Wage Negotiations Continue

A month of relative calm in a year of relentless labor unrest at Israel’s public hospitals ended Thursday, when doctors went on strike again.

Some 7,000 public service physicians decided to stage a 24-hour warning strike to protest what they termed the “foot-dragging of the employers” in negotiations to start a second shift system for operating rooms.

The doctors threatened more intensive and extensive measures if the wage talks did not shift into high gear within the coming days.

The resumption of what has by now become all-pervasive strike activity by Israeli medical personnel followed Wednesday’s singularity of being the only day in a month in which all hospitals functioned with normal staff schedules.

On July 29, another 24-hour warning strike was staged by some 10,000 doctors, both public and private, who all but shut down most of Israel’s hospitals to protest low salaries at government and Histadrut hospitals.

That walkout was called by the Israel Medical Association to protest low salaries at government and Histadrut hospitals. The medical association accused management of failing to complete wage negotiations for 1987.

Doctors struck following resolution of a long nurses’ strike that included public fasts to protest rigorous schedules.

Even when government physicians returned to normal work schedules a month ago, doctors employed by Kupat Holim continued intermittent sanctions against their employers as negotiations took place on means of shortening the lists for elective surgery.

A SHORTENED WORK WEEK

Most Israelis depend on the state-run hospitals or those affiliated with Kupat Holim, the health-care agency operated by the Histadrut labor federation.

Through the months of strikes by medical personnel, clinics and treatment centers have closed, and hospital wards have been run by skeleton crews working on Shabbat schedules.

Doctors were not the only wage-troubled workers in Israel this week.

Eight hours of talks Wednesday between representatives of the Histadrut and the Treasury failed to conclude accords on wages for public sector employees, despite an agreement in principle that was reached Monday between Finance Minister Moshe Nissim and Histadrut Secretary-General Yisrael Kessar.

On Monday, the two men had agreed that public-sector employees would move to a 42.5-hour work week and that the government industrial corporations would be included in the scope of the agreement.

However, Wednesday’s negotiations, which stretched until the late-night hours, failed to produce agreement on when reduction of the work week would begin.

In addition, negotiators failed to agree on which government corporations would be exempt from paying the already agreed-upon 11 percent pay hike over the next two years.

The Treasury wants the five-day, 42.5-hour work week to begin April 1, 1989, but the unions insist it should be reduced before the end of this year, in line with the transition to a five-day work week in the public sector.

But despite the failure of Wednesday night’s negotiations, both sides indicated agreement was imminent.

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