Doctors celebrating - David Bachar - 26082011
Doctors celebrating after signing the agreement Thursday. Photo by David Bachar
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After 159 days of strikes and labor sanctions, doctors signed a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday.

The deal, which was all but finalized on Wednesday, was signed yesterday in the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv by representatives of the Israel Medical Association, the Finance Ministry, Clalit Health Services and the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Dozens of residents who had submitted their resignations as part of the protests retracted them after studying the agreement. But the resignations of most of the residents are still scheduled to take effect September 4.

Health sector officials hope most residents will cancel their resignations. "I promise you that none of the residents will quit," Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen said yesterday.

The treasury and the IMA - headed by Dr. Leonid Eidelman - had already reached an understanding on Wednesday, but the various legal advisors needed time to formulate the official agreement and work out the final details, which delayed the signing until yesterday. Doctors did not take any work sanctions yesterday before the signing.

"This is a historic agreement," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday at a press conference. Steinitz said he was pleased that private health services in public hospitals have been halted, while doctors will receive a significant pay raise - especially those who move to the periphery from the center of the country. He also praised the doctors' agreement to start clocking in at hospitals.

"The negotiations were exhausting," he said. "The mediator, Prof. Yitzhak Peterburg, helped us in the last few meters, without which the strike would have continued."

"The doctors received larger raises than they expected," said a source involved in the negotiations. But the entire health sector has suffered from an erosion of budgets over the years, the source added.

The deal includes a 49% average salary increase for hospital doctors, who will now clock in and out, and the addition of 1,000 doctors at public hospitals. The wage hike is not equal; the hikes are much higher for doctors in outlying areas and in specialties short on physicians.

The agreement is for nine years, retroactive to July 2010, when the last deal expired. The agreement will increase funding for doctors in the public health system by NIS 2.7 billion. Doctors working in outlying areas will earn an average of 20% more than their counterparts in the center of the country. An especially high increase of 70% will be given to specialists in fields where the shortages are acute, including anesthesiology, intensive care, pediatrics and neonatology.