Labor Court Mulls Back-to-work Orders for Israeli Medical Residents

About 1,000 medical residents are to resign on Sunday if the courts do not intervene or the government doesn’t give in to their demands, with substantial repercussions to Israeli healthcare.

The National Labor Court in Jerusalem was scheduled last night to debate the State Prosecutor's request to issue back-to-work orders for about 1,000 medical residents in a last-ditch effort to prevent their mass resignation on Sunday.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued an opinion backing the prosecution, arguing that the residents' resignation was illegal, as it was carried out in a collective move that was not agreed upon by their representative organization - the Israel Medical Association.

Medical residents
Moti Milrod

Weinstein also said the court had already ruled that the residents' protest was illegal when they threatened to go on strike during the IMA's sanctions in June.

Attorneys for the IMA, the medical residents association and the young physicians union held discussions until late last night on the state's request for back-to-work orders.

The state called the planned resignations "an illegitimate step in collective labor relations, which undermines collective labor law. ... Such acts will void the labor courts' authority regarding strikes."

The prosecution said the medical residents' Mirsham association was acting "in defiance of the rule of law." It asked the court to issue back-to-work orders for residents and to instruct the IMA to impose sanctions against them.

The prosecution told the court that the residents' resignation will cause "severe disruptions to the public health system."

The IMA told the court it was not party to the residents' collective resignation, while Mirsham said each doctor's resignation was a personal decision, as stated in the notice they handed in.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry instructed hospitals to prepare for the resignation by canceling doctors' vacations, postponing non-urgent treatment procedures and allocating administrative personnel to help in departments suffering from severe staff shortages.

The ministry said that since the resignations are invalid, the residents are to be seen as regular workers and assigned to all their usual work and on-call duties.

The young physicians union, which also represents the residents, said the physicians are determined to move forward with their resignations until the Labor Court rules on the state's request.

If the mass resignation is carried out, the first hospitals to be harmed on Sunday will be Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikva, Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin, and Bnei Zion Medical Center in Haifa. Other hospitals likely will feel the blow later in the week. At Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and Hadassah medical centers in Jerusalem, residents' resignations are set to go into effect on Wednesday.

The residents said dozens of doctors have joined the resignation move, but dozens of others have reportedly withdrawn their resignations at various hospitals.

The young physicians union said Thursday that, as of Sunday, the responsibility for patients will be passed onto Prime Minister and Health Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At a press conference this week, they called on Netanyahu to intervene in the crisis but received no response.