Dr. Boris Itskovich clocking in - Nimrod Glickman - 02022012
Dr. Boris Itskovich clocking in Wednesday. Photo by Nimrod Glickman
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Sixty percent of the 15,000 physicians at government hospitals and Clalit Health Services facilities who were required to start clocking in to work on Wednesday did so, the health maintenance organization said.

Punching a time clock twice a day was one of the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement the Israel Medical Association and the government signed last summer.

"Data from the first day show that most of the doctors are being responsible and upholding the agreement," Clalit CEO Eli Defes said on Wednesday. "We expect that in the coming days, in accordance with the agreement, all the doctors will report their attendance."

But thousands of physicians refused to clock in. They included at least some of the 3,000 members claimed by Hospital Employed Physicians Organization, Arbel, which was formed several months ago in response to the dissatisfaction of many doctors with the new wage contract.

"The time clock was one of the stumbling blocks the whole time," said Dr. Amnon Mosek, deputy head of neurology at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital and a member of the board of Arbel.

"In theory, there's nothing wrong with a time clock if a person is meant to fill out an attendance report at work. But we have a problem with the Finance Ministry's intentions in bringing in the time clock, something that doesn't exist [for doctors] in almost any Western country," Mosek said.

Mosek said having to punch a time clock demeans the field of public medicine and "doesn't provide a solution for a large part of the work we do, including academic work outside the hospital," he said.

"Meanwhile, they said they would pay us for overtime hours, but there are hospitals whose administrations have already said they have no intention of paying overtime," Mosek said. According to Mosek, in some hospitals the department head rations overtime. "That means overtime will be paid primarily to doctors for clinical hours, which will lead to research being neglected. In the end, the patients will suffer," Mosek said.

Although the Health Ministry has said that doctors who do not clock in will not be paid, Arbel officials said this was an idle threat because it is illegal to withhold pay from employees who report to work.

Last week the Jerusalem Labor Court ruled in favor of National Insurance Institute attorneys whose pay was docked for refusing to clock in. The court said each employee must be given an individual hearing before any of their wages can be withheld in these circumstances.

The Health Ministry and Clalit said that over the next few days they would send warnings to doctors who are not complying with the time clock requirements, followed by hearings, but could pursue legal action if the noncompliance continued.

In a statement made on Wednesday the Finance Ministry said the state and the employers announced in advance that physicians who do not clock in will not be paid and will be subject to additional punitive measures, depending on the employees' status and the duration of the noncompliance.

The new labor contract promised the doctors shorter work weeks and higher pay, with additional pay for additional and on-call shifts.

In return the doctors agreed to clock in and out of work, even when they leave the workplace for job-related duties. Around 8,000 physicians have already subscribed to a cellular attendance service.

The Health Ministry acknowledged that some doctors did not clock in on Wednesday, as an act of protest, but said it hoped the disagreements will be resolved. "We call on all doctors to report in as required," the ministry said.

Read this article in Hebrew.