Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem.
Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman
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Nurses and administrative staff at Jerusalem's Bikur Holim hospital went on strike on Monday over unpaid wages, blocking the entrance to the hospital's maternity award and effectively turning away women in labor.

Early Monday morning hospital workers locked and chained the entrance to the emergency maternity ward, but later on it was explained to them that this act contravenes Health Ministry regulations and they removed the chains.

Instead they placed a bench at the entrance and sat down on it, in effect blocking passage in and out of one of the country's busiest maternity wards, in which some 6,000 births take place every year.

Bikur Holim's 225 nurses, 125 paramedics and 180 administrative and janitorial staff who are members of the Histadrut labor federation are striking over unpaid or partially paid wages from September. Some 120 doctors continue to work at the hospital, but having declared a labor dispute last Wednesday via the Israeli Medical Association, they are threatening also to go on strike within a week in protest over the unpaid wages.

The Jerusalem Labor Court yesterday discussed the hospital management's request to order the employees back to work, but failed to reach a decision. The workers returned to the hospital and again used the bench to block the maternity ward entrance.

The head of the Knesset health lobby, Kadima MK Dr. Rachel Adatto, visited the hospital yesterday and met with representatives of the workers and management. Adatto said that "the hospital faces complete closure resulting, among other things, from mismanagement for many years and a two-faced game between the finance and health ministries. Many of the workers now face unemployment." She called on the Finance Ministry to find a swift solution to the unpaid wages.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue over transferring the hospital's management to Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The Health Ministry has in recent days been preparing to close Bikur Holim in increments, including transferring patients to other medical facilities. Activities in the hospital, founded 176 years ago in the Old City, have been drastically cut back in over the last week due to its financial situation. Last Tuesday the ministry closed the hospital's emergency room.

The management yesterday appointed a temporary CEO, Nimrod Zach, to find a solution that will allow the hospital to continue to function under the present circumstances.

A spokesman for Bikur Holim said: "It has been clarified to the unions that they must enter negotiations over an agreed-upon recovery plan, which unfortunately includes cutbacks, but the reaction was to absolutely reject any negotiations regarding cutbacks. The management is aware of the workers' plight and their justified pain, and will continue to do all in its power to ensure a rapid solution to this crisis."