Talks With Doctors in Critical Condition / Treasury Seeking Arbitration to End Strike

State expected to reiterate months-old request for court to issue physicians with injunction and force them back to work.

The treasury is today set to ask the National Labor Tribunal to take the negotiations with the striking doctors to an arbitrator, after the latest round of negotiations on Friday ended without results.

Before the meeting, Israel Medical Association chairman Leonid Eidelman told reporters he feared "we are back at square one, and we might lose the achievements we made so far." At the end of the meeting, the parties agreed to cancel further meetings scheduled for the weekend, and to reschedule the labor tribunal hearing for early this morning.

"Considering the developments of recent days, we demand immediate arbitration and an immediate stop of all union moves to prevent any further damage to the patients," the treasury said, ahead of today's hearing. The IMA rejected the call for arbitration, saying they will ask the court to allow negotiations to continue along their current track. The state is also expected to reiterate its months-old request for the court to issue the physicians with an injunction and force them back to work.

The doctors, for their part, fear that if the tribunal sends the parties to arbitration, it may end similarly to the last arbitration round that began after the physicians' strike of 2000, and dragged on until 2008, finishing with a commitment by the doctors not to go on strike for a decade. "Even if we're forced to go to arbitration, the IMA has no intention to stop the strike action without injunction," a source involved in the negotiations told Haaretz.

The talks between the physicians and the treasury were dented by the outburst of protest from medical residents, who disagreed with the draft agreement. The IMA had already agreed to sign an agreement for eight years, as opposed to the ten demanded by the treasury, including - for the first time - agreeing to the use of time clocks in public hospitals, in exchange for a pay raise and overtime pay. But the agreement's meager addition of residents - 650 extra positions instead of several thousand - provoked the ire of the medical residents, who launched a wildcat strike of their own.

Their protest included spontaneous walkouts from hospitals, blocking major roads, and hospitalizing themselves in their own departments for "exhaustion," as a way of circumventing court orders that forced them to return to work. This particular action was eventually stopped by hospital administrators, but the residents also began working to set up their own union, separate from the IMA.

On Friday, the Federation of Israeli Medical Students organized a protest opposite Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, in support of the residents. Around a thousand people joined the protests, including both students and residents.