Fed Up With Israeli Government's Foot-dragging, Medical Residents Stay Home

Move follows Supreme Court Justice Meltzer's declaration he intends to schedule hearing on residents' petition against National Labor Court's injunction over mass resignations.

The medical residents' protest grabbed headlines once again on Monday, when 245 doctors who had previously submitted resignations did not show up for work at several public hospitals.

The affected hospitals were Rambam Medical Center, (87 doctors absent), Ichilov Hospital (50); Meir Hospital (50); Bnei Zion Medical Center (16), Sheba Medical Center (15); Schneider Children's Hospital (15) Wolfson Medical Center (10) and Beilinson Hospital (2).

Medical residents - Alon Ron - 15112011
Alon Ron

The move came a day after Supreme Court Justice Hanan Meltzer declared his intention to schedule a hearing on the residents' petition against the injunction issued by the National Labor Court against their resignations.

The Health Ministry said that the hospital departments were operating normally, though there were reports in the morning from Rambam in Haifa of overcrowding in the emergency room and the closure of the orthopedic outpatient clinics.

The ministry instructed hospital directors to submit lists of all the residents who had not shown up, so that disciplinary action could be taken against them. Ministry officials said they were also investigating whether they could pursue criminal proceedings against them for contempt of court.

"Residents and specialists have a responsibility to their patients," the ministry said in a statement. "Whoever fails in this responsibility will face the required proceedings."

The legality of the residents' move is still not clear. In early October, the National Labor Court, for the second time, issued an injunction against the residents' attempts to resign en masse, calling it a collective action that was not taken by their official union representation - namely, the Israel Medical Association - and was thus illegal.

Two weeks ago, however, Justice Meltzer permitted residents to resign for personal reasons, as long as the resignation was not linked to a demand for improved conditions.

The residents' primary demand had been that the agreement signed by the IMA on their behalf, which spreads staged salary increases over nine years, be shortened to seven. Several rounds of talks with government officials have made little progress toward any type of deal.

Doctors who were absent on Monday said they had no plans to return to work in the hospitals.

"My resignation was personal; and as far as I'm concerned, it is absolutely legal," said Eliaz Miller, who completed his residency in internal medicine at Ichilov last week. "Since I've finished my residency, I can offer my services to the private sector; residents can also work in the private system or complete their residencies abroad."

Miller speculated that the government's foot-dragging would boomerang in the end. "A few people have told me that they could spend this year making some money from [teaching courses for] the psychometric [exams]," he said. "And next year, they'll get personal contracts for lots of money because of the doctor shortage that will develop."