Treasury, Doctors Negotiate Into the Night in Attempt to Bridge Impasse

Judges warn that Israel's public medicine could go into a full-blown strike, which would be disastrous for its citizens.

Discussions between the Finance Ministry and the doctors continued into the night yesterday as the sides attempted to get past the impasse in negotiations.

The doctors declared a labor dispute 127 days ago.

Doctors and residents at Meir Hospital - Alon Ron - July 2011
Alon Ron

During yesterday's deliberations at the Tel Aviv Labor Court, the Finance Ministry asked the court to issue injunctions against the striking doctors, forcing the matter into arbitration. The Israel Medical Association rejected the arbitration request and asked the court to let talks continue in their current format.

Attorney Orna Lin, representing the IMA, called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to get involved in resolving the crisis.

During deliberations, the judges warned that Israel's public medicine as a whole could go into a full-blown strike, which would be disastrous for citizens.

Earlier in the day, the doctors union at Meir Hospital met to discuss emergency labor action. They unanimously decided that if the Labor Court decided to order arbitration and block their labor protest, the doctors would launch an open-ended hunger strike.

"If this occurs, in 48 hours we will be unable to work, and the hospital will be emptied of doctors, without violating the injunctions," said Dr. Zvi Klein, head of the union at Meir Hospital.

The doctors' union at Meir told the IMA that if the court decides to keep the current negotiation format, then talks should start from zero, with a list of demands being presented.

The demands would include raising interns' wages to NIS 50 per hour, not including specialists on duty; immediately adding positions for new doctors; and no long-term agreement, Klein said.

On Thursday, more than 100 interns at Meir Hospital launched a hunger strike, which they broke that evening at the IMA's request.

Other hospital unions met yesterday, but decided to wait for the court's ruling before deciding where to take their campaign.

In the draft agreement put forth last week between the IMA and the treasury, the two sides had agreed that the doctors would punch in on a time clock and that the agreement would be in force for eight years. This infuriated the interns, who oppose having a time clock and a long-term commitment.

The proposed agreement also included hiring 650 new doctors over the next three years. The interns claim this is not enough.

The union of interns, Mirsham, reiterated yesterday its demand for immediately creating new positions for 1,000 medical personnel, noting that the interns' protest is spreading through hospitals around the country.

During a meeting on Saturday night, representatives from all hospitals decided to set up under Mirsham a new union representing "young doctors" to coordinate the campaign for interns, specialists and medical students.