Medical Residents' Strike Averted as Israel's Labor Court Approves Compromise

Residents agree to suspend resignation until midnight Monday and conduct negotiations with Finance Ministry officials.

A mass resignation of hundreds of medical residents on Yom Kippur eve has been averted, as the National Labor Court last night approved a compromise agreement between the doctors and the state.

During the emergency court session, the residents agreed to suspend their resignation until midnight on Monday and conduct negotiations with Finance Ministry officials under the sponsorship of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until then. Residents who choose to opt out of the compromise and resign anyway may do so.

Medical residents, mass resignation
Hadar Cohen

If no agreement is reached by 2 P.M. on Monday, the court will deal with the state's request to issue injunctions against the residents.

The court session was halted several times Thursday as the parties - representatives of the residents, the Israel Medical Association and treasury officials - left for consultations on proposals raised by court president Judge Nili Arad to persuade the residents to suspend their resignation.

"If the purpose of the struggle is to improve the terms of the agreement [recently signed between the IMA and the state], it can be obtained by negotiations," Arad said.

On Wednesday the court issued injunctions to prevent the resignation of hundreds of residents at the country's hospitals, which were due to go into effect Thursday morning. The residents had rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to postpone the walkout for two weeks, until the end of Sukkot, and the court suspended their resignation until 2 P.M. Thursday.

However, despite the court ruling, dozens of doctors failed to show up for work Thursday morning.

The Health Ministry told hospital directors to make a list of absentee residents so they could be sued for contempt of court. As a result the residents decided to resume work.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman met the residents' union leaders on Thursday and proposed ways of solving the crisis. However, the residents' demands exceed an agreement recently signed between the government and the IMA by more than half a billion shekels, while the treasury is offering only NIS 100 million more.

The residents are demanding to shorten the agreement's term from nine to four years, while the treasury objects. One proposal discussed on Thursday was the possibility of reexamining the agreement in a few years and considering additional funding.

The Finance Ministry suggested allocating funds for solving problems that will arise in the next few years and employing specialists in full-time hospital positions. The treasury also proposed improving employment terms, for instance including a weekly day of rest, providing doctors with transportation to hospitals and ensuring they are not placed on more than six on-call shifts a month.