Doctors' Mass Resignation Prevented by Israel's Labor Court

The National Labor Court president is expected to review the state's demand for injunctions to stop the current round of resignations.

The resignation of hundreds of medical residents at the country's hospitals, due to go into effect Thursday morning, was prevented by the National Labor Court Wednesday afternoon.

After a nerve-racking day of discussions, in the course of which the Health Ministry and the affected hospitals continued to prepare for the mass resignation of residents - and at least 243 of them rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to postpone downing their scalpels and stethoscopes for two weeks - National Labor Court President Judge Nili Arad scheduled an emergency court session for 2 P.M. Thursday. She extended until that time the temporary suspension of the resignations that was agreed upon by the residents on Monday night.

Medical residents, mass resignation
Hadar Cohen

Talks between representatives of the residents, the Israel Medical Association and treasury officials were set to continue late into the night Wednesday in an effort to solve the crisis. One meeting was held between officials at the Health and Finance ministries in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.

In addition to ordering the parties to appear in her court this afternoon, Arad instructed them to submit progress reports on their negotiations by 10 A.M. In Thursday's session Arad is expected to review the state's demand for injunctions to stop the current round of resignations.

The State Attorney's Office argues that the latest move constitutes a collective resignation and is thus illegal. After an earlier attempt by residents to resign en masse was deemed by the courts to be an illegal collective labor action, more than 700 of them submitted individual letters of resignation that were due to take effect this month, mostly this week.

Prosecutors are instead asking for phased injunctions against residents working in wards and departments in which at least half of the residents have submitted their resignations.

If the measures to keep the residents at their jobs fail, the resignation letters handed in by 382 residents will go into effect today, as follows: Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv (130 residents ), Meir Hospital, Kfar Sava (77 ), Rambam Medical Center, Haifa (52 ), Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer (40 ), Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, Petah Tikva (24 ), Schneider Children's Medical Center, also in Rabin Medical Center (23 ), Assaf Harofeh, Tzrifin (15 ), Wolfson Medical Center, Holon (14 ) and Bnei Zion Medical Center (Rothschild ), Haifa (7 ).

In the event that residents do leave their departments, specialist physicians at the hospitals will be forced to replace them for the longer-than-usual on-call shifts during Yom Kippur. They will include senior doctors who have not worked long shifts for many years.

Clalit Health Services, the largest health maintenance organization in Israel, is not party to the legal steps taken by the state, and it is unclear whether court injunctions would affect residents working for the HMO's hospitals: Meir, Beilinson and Schneider.

Clalit said in a statement yesterday that it believed doctors should "remain in the system out of trust, not force."