At long last, after eight months of struggle, sanctions, strikes, threats to resign and court hearings - and suffering for the patients - the agreement with the medical residents was signed yesterday. The agreement improves the work conditions and pay of the young doctors, who are indeed worthy of the new deal.
It is just a shame the residents didn't learn the lesson that this summer's social protest leader Daphni Leef has already learned. Leef lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spoke to him insolently. But when she was criticized by the public, she realized her mistake and apologized. The residents sinned in exactly the same way - hubris. They said they would not attend the conference where the wage agreement was due to be announced if the prime minister was present. They are angry because he would not intervene in the dispute.
When they say "not intervening," they are referring to their wish that Netanyahu would push aside Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and the director of wages, Ilan Levin, and rule in their favor. Had Netanyahu done so, he would have caused a great deal of economic damage. He would, with his own hands, have destroyed the finance minister and the wages director, whose jobs are to protect the state budget during this period of economic crisis. After all, this is not the last work dispute in the economy.
Moreover, the rebels among the medical interns broke all the rules of negotiating by continuing with their sanctions and demonstrations even after an agreement was reached, thus committing their legal representatives. That is a turnabout for the worse in labor relations, since it is not possible to hold negotiations when it is not clear whether a signature to an agreement is the end of the matter. The residents proved that using force pays off, and that what one doesn't get with force, one gets with more force. And that bodes ill for the economy.
The residents' achievements boil down to a wage increment of 2.5 percent (NIS 150 million per year ), most of which is earmarked for the residents and young specialists. This is a not insignificant achievement, but it must be seen in proportion - the original agreement reached by the chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, boosts the doctors' salaries by 47 percent on the average.
The residents were not able to realize their main objective - shortening the agreement to three years from the agreed nine. Their plan was to carry out a coup in the medical association in another two years, to topple Eidelman, and then in 2015 to embark on "the mother of all strikes." In that way, they planned to get everything they did not get now, including the annoying need to clock in to work.
But they failed in that regard, and that is a good thing. Because the economy is not capable of withstanding a prolonged and exhausting doctors' strike every three years. The residents were able to achieve a "checking point" in the agreement, to take place in another three years, but without the possibility of widening it or going on strike.
Eidelman, too, is not without fault. He so much wanted to change the face of medicine in Israel that he set up an agreement in which doctors in the outlying areas earn some 20 percent more than those in the center. By so doing, he violated the unwritten law of the leaders of a workers' committee - to represent the weak at the front and then give most of the money to the strong.
That is because Eidelman is an idealist. He wanted to correct the state of medicine in the outlying areas and therefore he earmarked most of the additional sums for them. This drove the doctors in the center of the country crazy - why should they earn less than doctors in the periphery? And that is the reason why the rebellion started in the two biggest hospitals in the center, Ichilov in Tel Aviv and Sheba at Tel Hashomer, as well as Rambam in Haifa.
Indeed, Eidelman went a bit too far. The gaps that he created were too big. A resident in the center of the country who is on duty six times a week today earns an average gross salary of NIS 16,694 per month. In the wake of the new agreement, this will rise gradually to the level of NIS 21,634. On the other hand, a resident in an outlying area who today earns NIS 17,016 will henceforth earn NIS 25,887. This gap of NIS 4,000 caused the center's anger. It's no surprise that the most militant group came from Ichilov. That's also the only hospital in which a majority of the residents voted against the agreement that was reached yesterday.
Being a doctor is a blessed occupation since they save lives and improve the quality of health. They work night and day to cure their patients and their work is greatly appreciated by the public. Now that they have obtained these achievements in salary and in public health, let us hope that we will have eight years of quiet, until the next big struggle in 2019.
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