Protesting medical residents - Nir Kafri - 25102011
Protesting medical residents and students marching in Tel Aviv Monday night. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The High Court of Justice will hold a crucial hearing on Tuesday as six medical residents aim to get a National Labor Court decision overturned that nullified the letters of resignation submitted by hundreds of residents.

The Labor Court decision, which was issued just before the Sukkot holiday, required the residents to return to work at the hospitals where they have been employed.

In recent months, hundreds of residents have made two attempts to submit letters of resignation, and both have been rebuffed by the courts. Their action follows the signing in August of a nine-year agreement on employment conditions for the country's doctors, between the government and the Israel Medical Association. Many medical residents expressed dissatisfaction over some of the terms in the agreement.

The courts have deemed the residents' submission of letters of resignation as collective labor action that, as a result of the agreement between the medical association and the government, was unauthorized.

The IMA purports to represent all the country's doctors, including the residents. The courts also said that the group claiming to represent the residents did not have sufficient membership to be entitled to speak on behalf of them all.

The High Court's decision on the residents' appeal is expected to have major consequences. If the residents' right to resign en masse is rejected by the court, the residents would only be able to resign individually and over a period of time, which could take the steam out of their protest. On the other hand, if the High Court rules that the resignation letters are valid, it could result in the departure of 703 residents at 15 hospitals around the country, causing severe disruption to the delivery of medical care.

Sources in the health care system do not expect the court to totally overturn the detailed ruling by the National Labor Court, which judged the residents' resignations as illegal collective action. On Monday, the state submitted its response to the residents' appeal and asked that the restraining orders currently barring the resignations from taking effect be left in place.

The state told the court that, regardless of how the residents have characterized their resignations, by carrying out an organized disruption of labor relations in the health care system their actions should be deemed an attempt to go on strike.

In a reference to the agreement reached between the government and the Israel Medical Association, the state said if the resignations are allowed, it would set a dangerous precedent in the public sector and undermine the labor laws by making it impossible to resolve labor disputes through a collective agreement.

The state has refused to reopen the August agreement and has also refused the residents' demand for a pay raise, unless it is in exchange for additional hours of work in the public health care system.