A Finance Ministry official said Sunday that social workers' demands to improve their work conditions is "irrelevant," as hundreds of social workers across Israel protested their workload and low income, entering a second week of an open-ended strike.
The social workers are protesting what they describe as a collapse of social services, an overload of cases, low pay and workplace violence. As part of the strike – which is expected to impact some 1.5 million people – all social services in government ministries and local authorities have been shut down since Monday.
Demonstrators at junctions throughout the country held signs reading "Dying welfare = crushed society", and carrying sacks with phrases like “children at risk,” and “families in crisis," written on them.
Addressing the protest, the head of the budget division at the Finance Ministry, Shaul Meridor, said that “talking today about raising wages anywhere in the public sector is irrelevant,” likely referring to the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli tweeted in response to Meridor’s comments that social workers "are the ones on the frontline preventing the next tragedy. If this system collapses under the second coronavirus wave there will be no going back.”
Slamming Meridor's remark, the Union of Social Workers said in a statement: “The most aggressive virus against Israel's social services is the budget division. We call on the prime minister and the finance minister to demand that the head of the budgets division withdraw his detached and insulting statements about the social workers.”
On Saturday, the Union of Social Workers announced that it is preparing for a long-term strike of social services because of the “Finance Ministry's ongoing disregard.”
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On Thursday, more than 140 heads of local authorities made an urgent request to Finance Minister Yisrael Katz to solve the crisis. The municipal leaders expressed their “unqualified support for the social workers' struggle. We share their demands to reduce their workload, ensure they receive protection in the wake of the violence practiced against them, and improve their salary and standing.”
Last week, a group of social workers set up a protest encampment in front of Katz’s home in the southern moshav of Kfar Ahim. Efrat Levy, one of the leaders of the social workers' protest, called out to the minister: “We’ve heard you say that you embrace us, but we need more than hugs. We need action.” Social worker Sally Gabbai echoed Levy's frustration, saying "I've been a social worker for 19 years and I make less than minimum wage."