Micha Lindenstrauss - Olivier Fitoussi - February 2012
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Some 5,000 employees of the Meuhedet health maintenance organization will stage a one-day strike on Wednesday to protest management delays in reaching a collective bargaining agreement. The labor action - the first ever for the Meuhedet HMO - is expected to affect community clinic nursing services, medical labs, administrative services, dental hygienists and dentists (with the exception of independently employed dentists ). A final decision regarding precisely which services are to be withheld will be made today.

Meuhedet provides medical care for over a million Israelis, over 13 percent of the population. The strike action follows a recent move by Meuhedet employees to unionize. More than 80 percent of Meuhedet workers have personal employment contracts, however, the union is seeking to supplant the individual contracts with a collective agreement.

There has also been particular dissatisfaction among the HMO's dentists over policy changes in dental treatment for children. About 100 Meuhedet dentists signed a petition claiming the changes would reduce the quality of care, and the Health Ministry has ordered the policy scrapped.

Many in the HMO's management, including the director general, were replaced over the past several months following a highly critical report issued in November 2010 by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss over how Meuhedet was being run. The report even prompted a police investigation of current and former officials.

Meuhedet management said the announcement of the strike raises questions about "the real reasons and the interests behind" the move. The HMO's statement said that the new management has been engaged in ongoing serious negotiations with the workers over necessary changes that "had not been addressed over the years." It also noted that Meuhedet's new director had stated explicitly that he had no intention of laying off staff.

"The workers are no longer prepared to carry the burden of the changes, the adjustments and the cuts that have been demanded at the HMO due to its difficult circumstances," said Sheli Ventura, who chairs the workers' action committee. The unionized workers are also complaining that there are no clear-cut promotional tracks at the HMO and say salaries at Meuhedet are about 20 percent lower than what their counterparts at the country's other three health maintenance organizations are paid.

"Since the [state comptroller's] report," said one employee, "many members of the new management were recruited from other HMOs, including the director general, who came from the Clalit [HMO], while the dedicated Meuhedet employees who for years put the HMO at the top as measured by patient satisfaction, are not being promoted."