medical resident, strike, mass resignation
Dr. Uri Barzilai, a resident at Ichilov Hospital, at work yesterday. The sign he is wearing reads, 'Forced to work.' Photo by Hadar Cohen
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After the National Labor Court issued on Wednesday morning injunctions against hundreds of medical residents who resigned from their hospital positions, representatives of the trainee physicians said they would appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. Treasury officials and residents held talks Wednesday; they are scheduled to resume Friday morning.

Close to 500 residents walked off the job at government hospitals around the country earlier this week, after resignation letters submitted over dissatisfaction with the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement went into effect.

The Labor Court deemed the resignations a collective measure and therefore illegal, and ordered the residents to return to work immediately. In its ruling it said the Israel Medical Association, as the bargaining representative of the country’s physicians, must see to it that the residents report for work.

The court last month issued a similar ruling regarding a previous round of resignations involving about 800 residents.

The walkout bears all the markings of “an organizational measure in the guise of a collective resignation,” the court said.

Any residents who failed to return to work would be guilty of an “unauthorized abandonment” of the workplace and would bear the consequences, the court said.

Earlier this week at least 476 residents did not report for work, creating serious staffing shortages at the country’s major hospitals with and forcing specialists to take up the slack on the wards.

Most of the residents who had resigned and who were scheduled to work over the Sukkot holiday, from Wednesday night to last night, did obey the most recent injunction. A few refused, despite threats by Health Ministry officials of legal action, including possible criminal prosecution.
Health Ministry Director-General Ronni Gamzu convened a meeting of hospital administrators on Wednesday to discuss developments. A ministry official said the hospitals resumed normal operations after residents returned to work. “We are confident all the residents will resume their positions, in keeping with the court verdict,” he said.
“The Health Ministry had hoped for the court ruling ... knowing the doctors who resigned are some of the best in Israel and the health system and hospitals cannot function without them. The talks with the residents will continue,” the ministry statement said.

Attorney Tal Keret of Mirsham, the nonprofit organization representing medical residents, said after the court ruling that it “deals a fatal blow to basic freedoms in a democracy, disregarding the situation and basic principles of Israeli law. The decision forces hundreds of doctors to return to work against their conscience, although it was proved beyond all doubt that each of them is determined to resign and to bear the consequences,” Keret said.

According to Keret, the back-to-work orders effectively create a situation of forced labor and constitute a blatant violation of the Basic Law on the Freedom of Occupation.

The Finance Ministry has offered to raise the salaries of residents, in exchange for extending the length of their regular day shifts beyond eight hours, but it has rejected the residents’ main demand: shortening the term of the wage contract signed in August between the state and the Israel Medical Association, from nine years to three, and renegotiating certain items.

IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said he was “optimistic” in view of the resumption of talks between the treasury and the resident.

In a statement, the Finance Ministry said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz instructed treasury officials to continue talks with the residents in an effort to “find solutions to the residents’ problems” within the framework of the new wage contract.

The Hospital Employed Physicians Organization, which represents 2,000 hospital doctors, Thursday convened in emergency session to discuss the ruling.

“The decision ignores questions of value, is disproportionate and treats doctors as hostages, without any attempt to implement their most basic civil rights,” HEPO said in a statement. “Thousands of doctors are following with concern the court’s disregard for doctors’ rights, after they meticulously complied with the court’s orders, as law-abiding citizens,” the organization said.