Striking doctors - Daniel Bar-On  - August 8 2011
Striking doctors late last week. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The High Court of Justice last night granted a one-week extension for negotiations between the Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry. The High Court panel, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, ordered both sides to submit documents by Monday indicating progress in the contract dispute.

The justices also asked the IMA to avoid continuing sanctions at hospitals around the country. The IMA secretariat is scheduled to meet today to make a decision on the issue.

During preliminary talks at the treasury earlier in the day, the two sides discussed the pivotal time clock issue, but negotiations ended with the parties divided over the matter of recompense for introducing time clocks in the public health system.

During the morning talks, representatives of the IMA left the room to meet with doctors from Barzilai Medical Center, Ashkelon, who arrived on the scene to hold a rally close to the doctors' protest encampment outside the Prime Minister's Office.

The High Court deliberations are in response to a petition filed by attorney David Forer, which urges the court to call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in the battle over doctors' contracts and pave the way toward a breakthrough in the dispute.

Progress in the talks last week led to a temporary hiatus in labor sanctions adopted by the IMA in recent months.

Meanwhile, the sides are under increased pressure to resolve their negotiations as soon as possible. It was recently revealed that 142 days after the IMA's declaration of a work dispute, numerous hospitals around the country are reporting significant financial losses for 2011. The losses, hospitals say, stem from a drop-off in activity as a result of the sanctions adopted by the IMA.

Disruptions to services at the hospitals' surgical wards, outpatient clinics and day care wards have caused significant financial damage at all hospitals around the country, with some having to increase their budget deficit.

Furthermore, the hospitals are bracing for additional disruptions within a month if the letters of resignation submitted by some 800 interns and medical specialists in recent days go into effect. The legality of the letters of resignation is being questioned, meanwhile, as Israeli law does not recognize collective resignations borne out of protest actions.

Nevertheless, the Mirsham organization, which represents the interns, has made it clear that at this stage, the resignations do not contradict the injunctions filed against strikes outside the framework of the IMA.

According to a source close to the talks, "The sides have reached significant agreements on numerous issues, despite the disagreement over the recompense for the time clock, and both parties have a clear interest in moving the talks forward and striking a deal - both the treasury, which has more burning issues to deal with at the moment, and the doctors, who are hearing calls from the field about the problematic situation at the hospitals."