Some 13,000 administrative and housekeeping staff in 30 government hospitals across the country launched an open-ended strike Tuesday to protest the lack of personnel and excessive overwork.
During the strike, there will be no administrative, maintenance, cleaning and kitchen services or nursing aides in the wards, except in departments that provide urgent care. The strike also includes psychiatric, rehab and geriatric hospitals.
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“The workers have found themselves in a war of attrition, with the pressure posing a real risk to the lives of hospital patients and employees. Employees are forced to work seven days a week, and during their shifts are expected to carry out assignments meant to be performed by several workers at once,” Eli Badash, chairman of the National Union of Administrative and Housekeeping Workers in Government Hospitals, said in a letter to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
“We’re left with no choice: All we want is to make a respectable living and work in a fair manner, to be workers and not slaves,” said Badash, who runs the kitchen at the Sha’ar Menashe Mental Health Center and has worked there for 34 years.
Badash said that at a meeting with Horowitz in Jerusalem, the minister told him that his demands were justified and that in the next budget he would take it into account. “I respect him, but we’re always left for last. We’re collapsing, we have no manpower, and now we’ve decided to say, enough,” Badash said.
The Histadrut labor federation said government hospitals were actually planning to lay off some 200 administrative and housekeeping workers, noting that negotiations with the treasury to resolve disputes have not yet been successful.
The chairman of the State Employees Union, Ariel Ya’acobi added, “Administrative and housekeeping workers are no longer willing to be the invisible part of the health system. After demonstrating public responsibility for three years and during the coronavirus period, they have reached the end of their rope.”
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Union officials pointed out as an example of the overwork members face the six-hour workday of one cleaning woman at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, during which she is required to clean the inpatient ward of 14 rooms, 15 bathrooms and showers, two offices, a treatment room, a nurses’ station and a sitting area.
Itzik Buzaglo, her supervisor, said there wasn’t a person on earth capable of completing that work in the allotted time. “Even if I gave her 15 hours, she couldn’t finish it,” he said. On Saturdays, Buzaglo added, the cleaning woman was supposed to clean two wards on her own.
Her story is the story of the administrative and housekeeping workers at all the government hospitals, from Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, officials said. They blamed the treasury for not providing funds to hire more people, but they also leveled criticism at the Health Ministry. The more the government hospitals grow, the greater the burden on the administrative and housekeeping workers.
“It’s very simple,” said Badash. “If in the past there was one building to deal with, now there’s another one, but there aren’t more people to do it.” That’s how people end up working seven days a week.
While they accumulate “thousands of hours of overtime,” the union said, the odds of on-the-job injuries have also grown. “Workers fall, they have heart problems, they have back problems,” said Buzaglo. “If a person is allowed to do up to 30 hours of overtime a month, here people do 60 and 80 hours.”
According to union officials, the base salary for a new housekeeper in a government hospital is 1,800 shekels ($550) a month. Veteran workers can earn up to 4,500 shekels a month, and with all the overtime, pay can reach 6,000 to 7,000 shekels.
“They are talking in the Finance Ministry about bypass roads costing 200 million shekels, and we have no budget?” asked Badash. “With the salary of one treasury official I could pay for eight new workers.”
Sharon Malka, who has worked as a nursing aide at Rambam Medical Center for 27 years, said her job had been getting more difficult year by year. “It’s inhuman, really. The pressure grows every time they add new departments.” She added that she doesn’t get paid for more than 20 hours of overtime a month but that she forces herself to stay anyway. “I feel bad for the patients,” she explained.
The hospital routine puts everyone under pressure. Workers who spoke to Haaretz said their fight had the complete support of hospital doctors, who are also struggling with the same situation. Buzaglo said that sometimes surgeries are delayed because there is no cleaning worker to prepare the operating room for the next operation. “We try to be everywhere, always, but sometimes we just can’t,” he said.