Treasury, Union Launch Talks but Fail to Halt Social Workers' Strike

The social workers union is still at odds with the Finance Ministry regarding salary increase for social workers as well as the inclusion of social workers from non-profit organizations in a collective wage agreement.

The social workers' strike enters its third day today after yesterday's first negotiating foray failed to bridge the gaps between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation.

The social workers union wants a 30-percent salary raise for all social workers, while the Finance Ministry is offering 20 percent for the lowest earners, 10 percent for those earning up to NIS 10,000 a month, and 7.25 percent for those earning more than NIS 15,000.

 Social workers protest - Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

A stickier issue, however, is the treasury's refusal to consider the demand that the raise be included in a collective wage agreement that will extend to social workers at nonprofit organizations.

The social workers union also wants the treasury to state the cost of the entire raise agreement, and for the union to decide how it will be divided up.

The treasury, however, wants to be able to decide on the size of the percentages as well as the total cost, to make sure the lowest earners get significant increments.

The committee that decides on exceptions to the strike received 223 requests yesterday, of which four were approved: two meetings of the committee that decides on termination of pregnancy, a welfare worker who dealt with abandoned children, and a youth investigator who questioned a sexually abused teen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on the strike. "I am aware of the needs, but the negotiations must be allowed to take their course," he said, adding that he had experienced strikes as both prime minister and finance minister and that "sometimes there's no choice and a strike has to begin for it to end."

A source in the Histadrut said after yesterday's meeting: "The Finance Ministry still has not responded positively to the matter of applying the raises to social workers in private associations. So we can't move forward."

According to the Finance Ministry, "Each party presented its demands and positions and the professionals will go back to Jerusalem and confer with the finance minister. A new date has not been set for talks, but the goal is to renew negotiations as soon as possible to bring about an end to the strike."

Meanwhile, dozens of social workers protested at Western Galilee intersections, adding their voices to the calls for raises and improved working conditions.

The protesters, mainly from the Sakhnin area in the Galilee, carried signs criticizing the policies of Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Sakhnin Mayor Maazen Gnaim came to the site in support of the protesters.

Although the demonstrators blocked the main road for several minutes, many drivers expressed support for their struggle and there were no clashes with the police.

"We're expected to support and help the weak, but in the end we need help and support," said Bilal Shalateh, a social worker from Sakhnin. "The prime minister and finance minister have to bring about a major improvement in work conditions and salaries for social workers regardless of whether they work for the government or the private sector."

Some of the women demonstrators noted a connection between their struggle and International Women's Day, which is marked today. Two women social workers from Sakhnin's center for the elderly said they were inspired by the symbolism of the day and the fact that women in the Arab world have been demonstrating for their rights and freedom.