Israeli Doctors Wrap Up Two-day Warning Strike, but Results Still Unclear

Israel Medical Association considers resuming strike indefinitely, expanding to other health maintenance organizations, as well as holding protests and rallies.

The Israel Medical Association will decide today how to continue the doctors' struggle for improved wages and working conditions, as their two-day warning strike comes to an end.

The IMA is considering, among other measures, resuming the strike indefinitely and expanding it to the Clalit and Leumit health maintenance organizations, as well as holding protests and rallies.

1983 doctor’s strike
Kit Smith

During the warning strike, which ends at 7 A.M. today, the country's state-run hospitals operated on skeleton crews, as they do on Saturdays, postponing thousands of scheduled operations and treatments.

The doctors' negotiations with Finance Ministry officials stalemated yesterday. The treasury suggested focusing on three of the doctors' demands - residents' wage raises, and incentives for doctors in the periphery and for doctors in understaffed specialties.

Treasury officials object to the doctors' demand for a 50 percent raise across the board (the average payment per hour is NIS 42 ). But if the doctors agree to significant raises for residents, and to the reducing and shortening of shifts, a breakthrough in the talks is possible, treasury officials said.

The Finance Ministry would also consider granting a raise at a set amount, in order to narrow the wage gaps between senior and junior doctors. The officials said the longer the term of the agreement, the more generous their offers will be. The doctors, however, prefer a short-term agreement. They are also not expected to agree not to strike for 10 years, as they did after the previous doctors' strike in 2000.

The IMA denied yesterday that a deal would be possible if the state agrees to the operation of private medical services in state-run hospitals. According to the IMA, the top-priority issue is updating staff rosters - which were last set at the end of the '70s - and beefing up the number of doctors working in outlying areas of the country and in understaffed specialties. Next in line are the employment and work processes, and finally correcting the doctors' hourly pay.

Doctors are also demanding state funding for a wider range of medical services, which would allow patients enrolled in supplementary insurance plans to choose their doctors in state-run hospitals, and not just in private institutions.

The sides have four meetings scheduled for today and next week. The negotiations were brokered by Health Ministry director general Dr. Roni Gamzu and the ministry's medical administration head, Dr. Hezi Levy.

The Finance Ministry yesterday released figures concerning doctors' pay in three hospitals. Apparently, about a third of the doctors in state-run hospitals moonlight in their facilities' "research foundations" in the afternoons, earning thousands of shekels on top of their regular pay.

According to these figures, a resident at the Sheba Medical Center earns an average NIS 16,124 per month on his main payslip - consisting of his daytime work, plus shifts and "on call" duty; and earns NIS 3,397 in the second (moonlighting ) payslip. This comes to a monthly total of NIS 19,521.

A doctor working in an area of specialization earns NIS 21,392 on the first payslip and another NIS 11,556 on the second one - totaling NIS 32,948.

Senior doctors were found to earn NIS 28,544 on the first monthly payslip and NIS 14,505 on the second - totaling NIS 43,049.

A resident at Nahariya's Western Galilee Hospital earns an average NIS 28,444 per month, NIS 8,318 of that coming from the second payslip; a specialist there makes NIS 38,713, NIS 8,841 from the moonlighting payslip; and a senior doctor earns NIS 38,412, of which NIS 4,255 comes from his second payslip.

The highest monthly incomes found for moonlighting hospital work are made by a senior doctor at Sheba Medical Center - NIS 57,470 - and by a specialist in Western Galilee - NIS 36,998.