Social Workers Warn That Strike Will Escalate as Standoff With Finance Ministry Persists

Chairman of the Social Workers Union calls on Netanyahu to intervene in the strike, warns social workers will direct their campaign at him.

Thousands of people rallied Sunday outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on the 23nd day of the social workers' strike, protesting the refusal of senior treasury officials to meet with representatives of the Social Workers Union over new demands.

A rally in support of the social workers was also held Sunday night at Tel Aviv University.

Social workers protest - Daniel Bar-On- March 27, 2011
Daniel Bar-On

Meanwhile, on Sunday night the Finance Ministry appealed to the National Labor Court against the Tel Aviv District Labor Court's rejection of the state's request to issue an injunction against the strike by social workers in government ministries.

The chairman of the Social Workers Union, Itzhak Perry, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in the strike. He attacked the treasury's decision to negotiate only with the Histadrut labor federation and not with the union. "Those same treasury officials negotiated with us for six months, and now they are trying to delegitimize the Social Workers Union," Perry said.

He warned that the social workers would escalate their campaign and direct it at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from now on. "It cannot be that the prime minister sees we are striking, sees the public's anger, and does not intervene," Perry said.

The Finance Ministry said in its appeal to the National Labor Court that it would not negotiate with the union because it had already reached agreements with the Histadrut labor federation, which represents workers. "Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini had said all along that only he was authorized to reach agreements with the treasury," the ministry's appeal stated.

The Social Workers Union will meet on Monday to formulate its demands from the treasury, which include reducing to two the number of salary increments until the entire 25 percent increase that was agreed on is reached, reducing the additional number of weekly hours the social workers would have to work, and establishing a committee to change the social workers' salary structure.

"We are here and we will continue to come here every week until the Finance Ministry talks to us," Ofra Stein, a social worker from the north, said.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) who took part in the protest at Tel Aviv University, said: "Social workers are fighting today not only for their rights, but for the future of Israeli society. Standing alongside them is a moral obligation for all of us."

The Union of Local Authorities in Israel refused to join the appeal to the National Labor Court, saying that the social workers' strike is justified. Last week, the union rejected the compromise wage agreement worked out between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry by a vote of 14 to 13.

The offer included a monthly pay raise of NIS 1,100, introduced in four stages over a period of three years, representing a salary increase of 25 percent on average, as well as a one-time NIS 2,000 bonus that is part of the comprehensive wage agreement for all state employees signed in November. In addition, local authorities were supposed to hire a total of 50 additional social workers, and the work week of full-time social workers was to increase from 39 to 40.5 hours.

Social workers employed by nonprofit organizations were to be guaranteed a monthly salary of no less than NIS 6,000. To ensure that state funds allocated to these NGOs for the purposes of raising salaries are not diverted for other purposes, it was agreed that the state would monitor the organizations.

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ), who came out to speak with protesters at Sunday's rally outside the Finance Ministry, told them his wife and two daughters were social workers and that there was no struggle more just than that of the social workers. "You've been silent for too many years, and you allowed the government to push you onto the edges of public sector pay," he said, adding that the government "doesn't care that there are poor classes and that those who take care of them are poor." His call on the social workers to continue their fight until their demands are met was greeted with cheers.