Doctors' Contract Talks to Resume Today

Goal of negotiations is to reach agreement on remaining differences between Israel Medical Association and Finance Ministry; outstanding issues include scope of promised salary increase.

Contract negotiations between treasury officials and the Israel Medical Association are scheduled to resume this morning at Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, after breaking for the weekend on Friday afternoon. The goal now is to reach an agreement on the remaining differences between the parties and present them to the High Court of Justice.

On Wednesday night, an agreement was reached on major issues when the treasury acceded to the IMA's demand to add 1,000 physician positions in hospitals and to reduce the on-call burden for residents. Among the remaining outstanding issues are the scope of the promised salary increase and subsequent wage steps and the treasury's demand that physicians punch a time clock.

The High Court is slated to deliberate tomorrow on a petition demanding the personal intervention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the negotiations in order to expedite an agreement.

The IMA has suspended its sanctions - which had included work-to-rule and other protest measures - in light of the progress in the talks, as well as tomorrow's High Court session and Tuesday's Tisha B'Av fast. The organization, which operates as both a trade union and professional association for Israeli physicians, said it would announce new measures in the event that no agreement was reached.

The country's medical residents, who in the past few weeks have been pursuing a partly separate campaign from that of the IMA, plan to continue the mass resignation they began last week. Since Thursday, more than 300 residents working in Sheba, Beilinson, Schneider, Meir, Assaf Harofeh and Shalvata hospitals have submitted resignation letters, effective after 30 days, in an effort to pressure the IMA to obtain better terms from the treasury.

A number of residents withdrew their resignation letters on Thursday night, however.

The main demand of the residents with regard to their own terms of employment is an increase in their hourly starting wage, from an average of NIS 24 to NIS 50. They also are lobbying for a shorter contract than the eight-year agreement currently on the table, and the elimination of a clause that would require specialists to work on-call shifts.

The residents decided before last night's countrywide demonstration that they would not participate as a group, although a number of residents have joined tent encampments in Tel Aviv and some took part in the main Kaplan Street demonstration yesterday.

Today, a number of senior physicians are expected to join the residents in their protest. Members of a new organization of young physicians claim to have signed resignation letters from senior doctors, including department heads, that may be submitted at a later date with the permission of their signatories.

IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said over the weekend, referring to the actions of the residents, "Unorganized actions could boomerang."