The Attorneys Union, which unites some 850 prosecutors working in the Civil Service, announced its intention to strike in protest over the stalemate in negotiations with the Finance Ministry, an unusual step for an organization that until now was considered obedient and submissive.
Boaz Goldberg, who heads the Attorneys Union, came to work at the State Prosecutor's Office some 10 years ago, and is today a civil prosecutor in the Haifa District Prosecutor's Office, specializing in labor law. Since the beginning of the year, he has been the union head and has taken a militant stance.
In recent months, Goldberg has been negotiating with the Finance Ministry in order to approve the terms of employment at the State Prosecutor's Office and prevent a brain drain to the private sector. So far the prosecutors' campaign has not achieved the desired results.
Boaz Goldberg, what prompted you specifically now to burn the bridges and announce a strike?
At present, we have seven months of negations with the Finance Ministry behind us and that is after four years of them not talking to us at all. Today there was an effort to meet us, but in the afternoon we heard the same old lines we heard over the last few months. They [the Finance Ministry] just don't want to talk to us."
Describe the essence of the dispute between you and the Finance Ministry.
"The dispute touches in principle on wages and standardization: Promotion to senior levels, which makes it possible to earn more, is limited, because there are no positions in senior levels. The result is that prosecutors get stuck in the intermediate levels, without any real possibility of improving their wages and conditions. In addition, our wages have eroded considerably over the past few years.
"In the past, prosecutors in the Civil Service had a significant financial advantage over other sectors, but today the situation is different. We provided the opinion of a reliable body involved in placement of attorneys in the private sector, which found that the wages of attorneys working in the State Prosecutor's Office are comparable to the salaries in a small law firm with a low position."
How much does a young attorney earn in the State Prosecutor's Office?
"Around 7,000 shekels, gross."
The thing is, you published wage data that show that you earn little and the Finance Ministry quickly published other data which prove that you earn a lot more. What is the source of this contradictory data?
"The source of the contradiction is in the fact that the Finance Ministry's data on wages is incorrect. The Finance Ministry also includes in wages reimbursements for expenses and overtime hours to a great extent, so it turns out that a prosecutor must work time-and-two-thirds in order to earn the salary the Finance Ministry is referring to. You have to realize that if once the Prosecutor's Office was a preferred sector and this led to the hiring of quality personnel, today we are seeing prosecutors leaving to work at other government ministries and in the private sector.
"A few weeks ago, a respected prosecutor left the State Prosecutor's Office for a legal position at the Finance Ministry, and the ministry knew to pay and compensate her adequately. The Finance Ministry also knows that when you want good attorneys, it is necessary to pay them.
And how much, according to your data, does an attorney in the private sector with the same amount of seniority as his colleague in the State Prosecutor's Office earn?
"Two or three times the salary in the State Prosecutor's Office. I'm not saying that salaries in the private sector should be identical to those in the State Prosecutor's Office. It's clear to me that the salary of prosecutors in the Civil Service cannot be the same as the salary of attorneys in a large law firm, but the gaps cannot be so large. You have to understand that whoever comes to the State Prosecutor's Office comes there because he feels that it is his natural place to represent the state and the public interest, and I'm not saying this cynically, but really prosecutors come here out of a sense of mission - but still such wage gaps are illogical."
Do you have data on a brain drain away from the State Prosecutor's Office?
"We do not have exact numbers, but we know about those who left from the e-mails they send. There have been dozens in the last few years and I'm talking mainly about mid-level prosecutors. On the other hand, it is also hard to attract outstanding private-sector attorneys to be mid-level prosecutors, because an attorney who has already gained knowledge and experience can earn a lot more on the outside, so why join the State Prosecutor's Office? The result is that new, outstanding attorneys come to work in the State Prosecutor's Office and after a few years, after they have acquired knowledge and experience, leave for private sector jobs or other government ministries that can compensate them better than the State Prosecutor's Office."
To what extent do your colleagues join the State Prosecutor's Office out of a sense of mission, and to what extent do they join for the convenience?
"I certainly believe that it is out of a sense of mission. I can say that of myself. I came to the Civil Service because I believe I can represent the public interest in the Labor Court, where in my job I represent the State Prosecutor's Office."
Still, why close the wage gap between the private sector and State Prosecutor's Office attorneys if the corridors of the State Prosecutor's Office empty out at 4 P.M. while in the private firms, work continues until the wee hours of the night?
"I don't think that the corridors of the State Prosecutor's Offices empty out at 4 P.M., but these petty questions are not the point."
What is the point?
"The matter of what kind of representation the public and the state want. Do they want a Prosecutor's Office on a superior level, where every citizen arriving for a case before the state will meet with a prosecutor of the highest level, who considers the public interest and the state's wellbeing, even if the citizen and the prosecutor are on opposing sides? It can happen only if quality personnel are hired and kept on. Given the current terms of employment, this is not a sure thing."
Let's go back to the working hours.
"Prosecutors take cases home in order to prepare for a session in court the following day and sometimes work as late as midnight, and this is also recognized in order to compensate prosecutors. The claim that the corridors of the State Prosecutor's Office are empty is a populist argument."
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