residents - Moti Milrod - November 17 2011
Medical students protesting in solidarity with the residents at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on November 16, 2011. The sign at left reads 'Price tag.' Photo by Moti Milrod
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Three days after hundreds of medical residents stopped showing up for work at hospitals around the country, the High Court of Justice will hold a hearing today on their demand that they be allowed to resign.

The dispute follows an agreement reached in August between the Israel Medical Association and the government over a nine-year labor deal for the country's public-health physicians.

Many medical residents have objected to the terms and have tried to resign. Court rulings have deemed the resignations a collective labor action that contravenes the August agreement and runs counter to the claim that the medical association represents the residents; these rulings would therefore make the residents bound by the August settlement.

Much of the residents' dissatisfaction is based on the agreement's nine-year duration, which they say is too long.

Today's hearing follows three weeks of negotiations between the residents and Finance Ministry, but the talks have not made progress. Lawyers from the State Prosecutor's Office, who are representing the government, are expected to ask the court to rule on the validity of this week's resignations of hundreds of residents at hospitals around the country.

The residents will also be asked to provide a formal explanation for their absence from work despite court injunctions barring their resignations.

At today's hearing, the medical association is expected to present the court with a compromise that is thought to include the appointment of an independent arbitrator.

The state opposes shortening the duration of the agreement, while the IMA opposes scrapping the August pact altogether.

Yesterday the State Prosecutor's Office asked the National Labor Court to find the residents who have walked off the job in contempt of court for violating restraining orders against their resignations.

At a High Court hearing two weeks ago, Justice Hanan Melcer said individual residents could resign as long as the act was motivated by personal reasons, not collective labor sanctions.

The government says Melcer is talking about future resignations, not resignation letters that have already been submitted.

One resident said yesterday that he and his colleagues are determined to pursue their efforts "even if they put everyone in jail."

Many residents are expected to attend the hearing at the Supreme Court today.

Protests are planned if the court does not support their position.

Some have said they would report to police stations and ask to be arrested if their resignations are again ruled illegal.

The Finance Ministry and State Prosecutor's Office are considering criminal and disciplinary proceedings against the residents. But the Health Ministry is holding off on such action, hoping to reach a settlement through dialogue.

The High Court has three separate petitions before it.

The first was filed three weeks ago by six medical residents seeking to overturn the National Labor Court's ruling last month that deemed the resignations illegal.

The second was filed this week over the residents' long hours.

Residents work as many as 26 hours straight, which the petition claims violates the country's labor laws.

The third petition, filed by Mirsham, a nonprofit group representing some of the country's residents, challenges the agreement's nine-year duration.