With a strike by cleaning and administrative staff entering its third day on Thursday, conditions at Israel’s government-run hospitals have begun deteriorating – but the government hasn't made any moves to end the labor action.
The strike began on Tuesday, with workers complaining of overwork and a shortage in personnel. The Finance Ministry has not initiated negotiations with the unions, and the Health Ministry has not asked the country's labor court to order workers back to their jobs or met with their representatives. A first meeting is scheduled for Thursday between union leaders and an aide to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
Patients and doctors are already feeling the strike’s impact on the quality of care. Garbage and dirty laundry are piling up, causing one hospital official to warn that deteriorating hygienic conditions may soon be putting patients at risk.
In addition to the administrative and cleaning staff, workers who bring food from hospital kitchens to patients have stopped working, appointments at outpatient clinics have been canceled and non-critical surgery has been delayed.
On Sunday, health professionals – including dietitians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists – seeking to show solidarity plan to stage a short strike in support of the strikers. The strike, which was called by Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, will begin at 8 A.M. and end at 12:00 P.M. It will not affect coronavirus and other urgent laboratory testing.
If “the professional staff at the Finance Ministry don’t find a solution quickly to the demands of these ‘invisible’ workers, other sectors can be expected to join the strike,” the Histadrut said in a statement.
Eli Gabbai, chairman of the Health Professionals Union, said the “time had come for the Finance and Health Ministries to treat with the respect these 'invisible' workers, who suffer disgraceful work conditions and insulting wages.
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“We decided to join them on Sunday in a sympathy strike in the hope that someone in the government will wake up and find a solution to this impossible situation,” he said.
Esther Admon, who chairs the Association of Microbiologists, Biochemists and Laboratory Workers, said that members of her organization were joining the strike “because we identify with the just struggle of the government hospital management and housekeeping staff and the employees of the Health Ministry and local health offices.”
Administrative and cleaning staff called the open-ended strike this week to protest excessive work hours and demands that they expect to grow amid plans to eliminate 200 jobs that were created during the COVID-19 crisis.
Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz on Thursday ordered that the 200 workers continue to be employed until deliberations over the state budget get underway. Hershkowitz said his move was taken in coordination with the Finance Ministry's budget division.
The strike encompasses more than 20 government hospitals, including general hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and rehab and geriatric centers. Since workers walked out, all administrative, maintenance, cleaning and kitchen services have stopped, as have multiple tasks performed by hospital aides. The only exceptions are departments dealing in critical care, including emergency rooms, wards for premature babies, dialysis facilities and cancer wards.
The hospitals report that the labor action has already harmed operations. At Hadera’s Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, for example, sources reported that bags of garbage and dirty laundry are piling up, outpatient clinics have been shuttered and surgical procedures cancelled for lack of auxiliary personnel.
“We have to wake up, and quickly. This isn’t the kind of service experience we must be providing – the pictures speak for themselves,” said Dr. Amnon Ben-Moshe, the head of administration at the hospital. “The job requirements and salaries of administrative and housekeeping employees must change. This is an essential workforce for the hospital’s day-to-day operations.”
Dr. Mickey Dudkiewicz, Hillel Yaffe’s director, said surgeons personally were transporting patients to operating rooms while nurses were sterilizing critical equipment, serving meals and removing trash.
“A hospital relies on its administrative and housekeeping staff to function no less than on medical and nursing staff,” said Michal Stein, who heads the infectious diseases department. “The deterioration has been rapid and dramatic. Garbage is piled high, dirt is visible in every corner and there’s no clean laundry. Without a doubt, this will lead to infections being contracted in the hospital, with all that this implies. “