Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives of the country's medical residents Tuesday evening for the first time, in an effort to head off mass resignations by several hundred of them beginning tomorrow morning. The Finance Ministry and the Israel Medical Association were also represented at the meeting.
The IMA struck a nine-year agreement with the Finance Ministry in late August that engendered dissatisfaction among a large number of the country's medical residents. In response, the residents tendered mass letters of resignation, which the court later deemed an impermissible form of collective action. More than 700 residents then submitted letters of resignation on a more individual basis that were due to take effect on a staggered basis beginning on Tuesday.
Following the intervention of the National Labor Court in Jerusalem Monday, the residents agreed to defer the first of the resignations until tomorrow.
Senior health officials are pressuring the residents to again defer any resignations until after this month's Jewish holidays so the residents' demands can be thoroughly considered. For their part, some residents in the field are urging that an uncompromising stand be taken in the negotiations.
Tuesday morning, there was a measure of uncertainty as to whether all the residents would honor the agreement to postpone any resignations until tomorrow. In fact, however, the vast majority of the 183 residents whose resignation letters were due to take effect on Tuesday showed up for work.
Nearly 20 residents have withdrawn their resignation letters over the past couple of days, although seven residents at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv tendered new letters stating that they would resign.
Behind the scenes, the meeting with the prime minister was convened thanks to mediation efforts by Dr. Eliezer Rachmilevitz, one of the prime minister's personal physicians. National Labor Court president Nili Arad has offered to have her court mediate the dispute, and commended the parties for their efforts to resolve the matter. The two sides are due to report to Arad tomorrow morning regarding their progress.
The Tel Aviv prosecutor's office had initially petitioned the court, on behalf of the finance and health ministries, for a restraining order barring the residents from walking off the job, because of the disruption it would have caused to the public health system. The request remains pending as efforts to settle the dispute continue.
On Tuesday afternoon the residents' representatives as well as IMA officials met at the Finance Ministry. As the talks began, the atmosphere at the meeting was said to be "positive" and ministry officials expressed a readiness to provide benefits to the residents that would go beyond what was agreed to in August with the IMA. It was also agreed, however, that the pact itself will not be renegotiated. Ministry officials expressed anger later when the residents left the meeting to prepare for the evening session with Netanyahu, but subsequently treasury officials and IMA representatives were also asked to attend the meeting with the prime minister.
Among the demands being considered is one by the residents eliminating the obligation by young specialist physicians to do on-call night shifts, as the August agreement requires. Any change in the provision would be made in an addendum to the August pact. This week the residents also raised a preliminary demand for a NIS 7,000 monthly wage increase, NIS 2,000 of which would be paid initially and other NIS 5,000 to be provided to residents after they passed a mid-term exam in the middle of their residencies.
The residents are seeking to have the duration of the agreement between the IMA and the government reduced to less than nine years, as it stands now. They are also demanding financial benefits beyond what the agreement calls for and want a monitoring committee set up to track implementation of the agreement.
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