Doctors strike protest
Doctors protesting in Tel Aviv in May 2011. Photo by Motti Milrod
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Hundreds of resident doctors abandoned their posts in hospitals across their country on Tuesday in protest against an agreement being hashed out between the Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry, aimed at ending months of strikes and sanctions.

By early afternoon, residents had deserted their shifts and began picketing in the parking lots at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, Sheba Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the Shalvata Mental Health Center in Hod Hasharon.

The residents are dissatisfied with the IMA's readiness to compromise and are trying to persuade the body to maintain its reserve and not be pressured into any agreement which they believe debases the medical profession.

The residents are particularly reluctant to accept a stipulation that they clock in and out of work every day. Doctors have refused this demand for years. Now they are demanding an innovative way of clocking in and out, rather than the traditional time clocks. For example, they are suggesting a location-based smartphone application that they will press when entering and leaving the hospital.

The ministries and hospitals do not object to such a system of electronic reporting, but insist it must meet all the standards of punching a time clock: Data will be transferred to a central system and it will be impossible to "deceive" the system.

The residents are also dissatisfied with the lengthy validity period of the agreement: the Finance Ministry hopes to secure a deal that would last 10 years.

After 108 days of strikes and other disruptions, the doctors are were the verge Tuesday of reaching an agreement. Marathon negotiating sessions continued yesterday between the IMA and representatives of the Finance and Health ministries in an attempt to reach an agreement before a scheduled session of the National Labor Court on the matter today in Jerusalem.

The negotiations are being conducted under the auspices and supervision of the president of the National Labor Court Nili Arad, who is enforcing strict secrecy over the talks. Details of the probable deal have reached TheMarker, though changes in the final agreement are possible. If a deal is not reached by the court session scheduled for this afternoon, Arad will most likely have to hold a hearing on whether to approve the Finance Ministry's request for back to work orders for doctors.

The framework agreement will cost the taxpayer an additional NIS 2.2 billion to NIS 2.5 billion over the next eight or nine years. This amounts reflects a 40% to 45% increase in doctors' average wages, which will be spread out over this period, representing an average wage hike of 5% to 5.5% annually. These numbers are not linked to inflation, but the agreement will include a section stating that if inflation is higher than a specific level, doctors will be compensated.

But not all the doctors will see equal raises in salary. The Finance Ministry will continue its recent trend in public sector wage agreements of differential increases for certain workers. In this case, doctors living far from the center of the country will receive more, as will those in certain understaffed specialties such as anesthesia, surgery, pediatrics and intensive care. The treasury hopes to create incentives for doctors to move from the center of the country to the periphery, as well as to attract more doctors to certain specialties. The wage differentials could be as much as 15%. Doctors could even double the differential. For example, specialists in sought after professions who work in outlying hospitals could see their wages rise 30%.

Another incentive is to offer grants of NIS 300,000 to NIS 500,000 for housing to doctors who move to the desired regions and specialties.

In return for the big wage hikes, doctors have agreed to give in on one major demand:
Other issues that have been agreed upon are a limit of eight shifts for residents in addition to their regular work, and additional staff positions to make up for the reduced numbers of such shifts.