High Court Presses Israeli Medical Residents to Resume Negotiations With State

Judge gives residents until midday to decide on negotiations with treasury after the Supreme Court began hearing a request to overturn a National Labor Court ruling disqualifying letters of resignation submitted by hundreds of residents.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer Tuesday gave medical residents until noon Wednesday to tell the High Court of Justice whether they intend to renew talks with the Finance Ministry.

The court Tuesday began hearing a request to overturn a National Labor Court ruling disqualifying letters of resignation submitted by hundreds of residents.

Medical residents protesting - Daniel Bar-On - 11102011
Daniel Bar-On

Earlier this week, representatives of hundreds of trainee physicians who rejected the wage contract signed weeks ago between the state and the Israel Medical Association suspended negotiations with treasury officials.

Melcer announced that the negotiations would not revisit issues that do not directly affect the residents, in a reference to their representatives' efforts to put overtime pay for young specialists back on the bargaining table. They will, however, address issues such as monetary bonuses, transportation to the workplace, and reducing the number of on-call shifts for each resident. Melcer urged the residents to give serious thought to resuming the talks.

If the residents give their okay, the state will be asked to tell the court by Thursday morning whether it agrees to resume discussions with the residents, and in effect reopen the collective bargaining agreement signed with the IMA in late August. The Finance Minister has been staunchly opposed to reopening contract talks. If the residents say no to the talks, the High Court will appoint a panel of justices to deliberate on the case.

Melcer yesterday did not address the residents' key demand that the court overturn the Labor Court's invalidation earlier this month of the resignations of at least 735 physicians, the vast majority of them residents. The doctors returned to their hospital jobs as a result of that ruling.

On Monday night, senior Finance Ministry officials told government hospital directors at a meeting that they will not reopen the nine-year wage agreement and will not agree to raise residents' wages unless it is in exchange for additional work hours in the public health system.

The residents are demanding the shortening of the contract period - it expires only in 2019 - or, alternatively, an increase of thousands of shekels to their monthly base pay. They also want to scrap a clause in the new agreement that requires young specialists to work on-call night shifts.

Melcer yesterday proposed reopening the contract to give residents additional cash bonuses, to be negotiated between the treasury and the residents.

Meanwhile, dozens of senior physicians at a number of government hospitals yesterday threatened to quit if the High Court did not overturn the Labor Court's ruling and permit the residents to resign. The initiative began at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where doctors signed a future resignation letter. Doctors who signed the letter include Prof. Yossi Lessing, head of the gynecology and obstetrics department; Dr. Zvi Ram, chairman of the department of neurosurgery; and Dr. Amnon Mosek, deputy head of the neurology department. They were later joined by colleagues at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. As of yesterday, none of these letters had been submitted to hospital administrators.

"We are deeply frustrated with the sorry chain of events," Mosek said yesterday. "I don't want to discuss our future plans because such declarations in the past made the residents' resignations unlawful because they contained an element of planning. My resignation letter is signed, and for me this is a significant measure of support for the desperation and anger that frustrates all of us at the fact that this system is not worthy of us," Mosek said.