‘Maximum Caseload, Minimum Conditions’: Thousand Social Workers Protest Nation-wide

Israel’s social workers are entering the third week of a strike in which they are demanding improved pay and working conditions

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Social workers demonstrate against overwhelming working conditions in Haifa, July 19, 2020
Social workers demonstrate against overwhelming working conditions in Haifa, July 19, 2020Credit: Rami Shllush

More than a thousand social workers blocked roads near government offices on Sunday morning in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva. Further demonstrations took place near Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, at the Pardesiya Junction in the country’s center, and in Sderot.

Social workers have been on strike for two weeks, demanding the improvement of their work conditions and pay.

LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoningCredit: Haaretz

Specifically, social workers are protesting their heavy caseloads and instances of violence against them by their clients, as well as the general condition of social services in Israel. The Finance Ministry has so far turned down their demand to increase the social services budget by about half a billion shekels ($1.45 million).

Hundreds of social workers protested in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem during the weekly government meeting, hanging 300 files of social services clients on a fence of the compound. Protesters called for justice and a change to the situation of both health and welfare in Israel, while holding signs decrying the low wages for what is considered “sacred work” and reading “maximum caseload, minimum conditions.”

Welfare files were hung outside the Prime Minister's Office as part of a series of social workers' protests, Jerusalem, July 19, 2020Credit: Union of Social Workers

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz mentioned the strike for the first time in a meeting of Kahol Lavan ministers, saying that he would work immediately to find a solution to end the strike.

“Children, the elderly and welfare clients have been paying a heavy price for two weeks now,” Gantz said. “It is inconceivable that the economic plan includes no solution, not to mention in a time of economic emergency.” He added that he would work with Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor) on the matter. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the strike during the government meeting Sunday.

Michal Gomel Blank, chairperson of the Jerusalem district of the Union of Social Workers said at the demonstration in Jerusalem: “It’s inconceivable for a social worker to have a caseload of 300 families. You can’t serve anyone like that, not to mention the starvation wages. The government in which ministers without a portfolio are earning ten times as much, has the power to resolve the crisis.”

The mayor of the Haifa suburb of Nesher, Roi Levi, said at the protest outside of government offices in Haifa that “We are only at the beginning of the corona economic crisis. Anyone who doesn’t understand that the whole crisis is going to be on your shoulders should put their house in order.”

Hundreds of social workers protested Friday in Tel Aviv, blocking traffic on Dizengoff Street. Following the protest, Inbal Hermoni, the chairperson of the Union of Social Workers, was summoned to a police inquiry on Sunday.

The social workers’ strike means that about 1.5 million cases are not being dealt, including those involving those who are suffering financial hardship, victims of violence, children at risk, elderly people living alone and people with disabilities who required help from the state even before the spread of the coronavirus.

It is unclear how long the strike will go on, but the social workers said that if their demands are not met, they will continue the strike for months.

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