How Israel's Medical Revolt Began

Although the residents' salary stub includes a clause to the effect that the hourly wage is NIS 30, it's misleading.

The entire battle of the medical residents, all the resignations and anger, would have been prevented had Leonid Eidelman, the head of the Israel Medical Association, fulfilled the first law of labor relations: Always talk about the weak and deprived, but give most of the salary increase to the strong and well off.

That's the method used by the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini. In court he talks about typists and contract workers, but makes sure that the people who receive the high salary increases are the employees of the Israel Electric Corporation, the airports authority and the ports authority.

In the most recent national wage agreement, Finance Ministry wages director Ilan Levine tried to convince Eini to agree to a differential wage increase, so that public sector workers who receive high wages would get a little and those who receive low wages would get a lot. But Eini didn't want to hear about it. He's very familiar with the first law of labor relations. He understands where power lies.

But Eidelman is a different type. He's an idealist. He really wanted to change the face of medicine in Israel. That's why he forged an agreement in which the doctors in outlying areas receive 20 percent more than those in the center of the country. This would attract doctors to the outskirts, where there is a severe shortage. He also gave large increases to professions with problems such as anesthesiology, intensive care, internal medicine, pathology, geriatrics and surgery. Where the work is hard, there are almost no private practices, so there is a shortage of doctors.

In doing so, Eidelman overturned the first law of labor relations. He gave less to the strong and well off in the center of the country - the result was a revolt against him. Because the strong people in the center are used to receiving the lion's share, and suddenly they were being skipped over. That's the source of all the uproar.

During all the negotiations with the Finance Ministry, Eidelman made one winning sentence: It is inconceivable for a doctor to earn less than a housekeeper. It really is inconceivable, but it's also not true. Although the residents' salary stub includes a clause to the effect that the hourly wage is NIS 30, it's misleading. The residents receive regular additional wages beyond the pay for an hour of work; they also receive very high pay for on-duty shifts. While every other civil service employee receives 125 percent and 150 percent for overtime, the doctors receive between 400 percent and 650 percent.

In other words, for every hour they work after 4 P.M. they receive NIS 120 or NIS 195, and then they get a day off. So average residents in the center of the country earn about NIS 16,000 a month, assuming they do six on-call shifts that month; that is, work 245 hours a month. After the implementation of the new wage agreement they will earn NIS 21,000. An average resident in the outlying areas, who until now earned NIS 17,000 a month, will receive NIS 25,000 after the implementation of the agreement. Anyone specializing in that list of specialties mentioned above will earn even more.

So we can say that the present salary (before the agreement ) is too low, but not that the salary is lower than a housekeeper's. Nor should we forget that the residents' salaries are the salaries at the start of their careers. Later the residents become specialists, and after that senior physicians, whose salaries are higher. And they can even take another job, for example, at the section of the hospital where patients can pay extra to see a doctor quickly. One-third of the residents work that way and receive an additional salary.

Residents can also work privately, a privilege available in the civil service only to doctors. They can open a private practice or serve as consultants or doctors at the health maintenance organizations - what another third of them do. Not to mention the benefits paid by the employer, the continuing education and the conferences. So how can anyone compare their situation to a housekeeper's? Is there no limit to the deception?

But the irony is that this lie has taken root not only among journalists and radio broadcasters, but among the residents themselves. Some of them have become convinced that their situation really is as miserable as a housekeeper's, and now they are waving this claim before Eidelman himself.

The Golem has arisen against his creator and is hitting him hard, to the point where Eidelman is expected to pay for it with his job.