Union Rejects Treasury Offer as Residents' Protest Gathers Steam

Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman: Residents' actions undermine understandings reached between IMA, which operates as a trade union for Israeli physicians, and the treasury.

Negotiations between the physicians and the Finance Minister are expected to resume this morning, but it is still unclear whether the two sides will be able to bridge their differences by Sunday, when the parties are scheduled to appear before the National Labor Court. On Wednesday night the court issued a back-to-work order against a wildcat strike announced by medical residents in hospitals around the country.

Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said Thursday that the residents' actions undermined the understandings reached between the IMA, which operates as a trade union for Israeli physicians, and the treasury.

Residents hospitalizing themselves
Daniel Bar-On

"The treasury told the court the residents were going back to zero, and everything that had been discussed to date was lost. I hope we can retain the gains already achieved," Eidelman said.

By last night the pressure from the residents was beginning to have an effect, and later the IMA announced it would consider bringing residents who belong to the union's central committee into this morning's contract negotiations with the Finance Ministry.

The IMA announced officially that "a deal under its current format will not be signed," acknowledging that changes had to be made.

For its part the Finance Ministry said, "In view of the incidents in recent days, characterized by the loss of control and the fact that we are learning for the first time, through the media, that [the IMA has] decided to rescind written agreements prepared under the auspices of the court, there is no alternative but to go into arbitration."

"We are sorry that an entire year of intensive work may be lost. We will take action to reach a quick decision in order to avoid harm to the public, which has already paid the cost for many months of an unnecessary strike," the Finance Ministry statement continued.

Meanwhile, medical students are planning to hold a demonstration at the entrance to Ichilov Hospital, in Tel Aviv. The protest is being organized by the national association of medical students, in support of the residents.

Yesterday IMA representatives to the talks did not rush to resume the negotiations, deciding instead to focus on calming down its members. During the morning Eidelman met with interns and residents who had demonstrated at IMA offices at Ichilov.

Later Eidelman met with representatives of hospital residents from around the country, in an effort to close the ranks of the physicians. Eidelman came in for considerable criticism during the meeting from residents who said his conduct was divisive. He said the treasury was the one that sought such a rift and called for unity among IMA members in order to improve their position in the negotiations.

"The policy of the treasury is clear: It is the ancient policy of divide and rule," Eidelman said. "The [treasury officials] have won, and now there is frustration in the ranks," he said.

Yesterday afternoon hospital directors were summed to an emergency meeting at the IMA. They were briefed on the scheduled resumption of the negotiations this morning, and instructed to present a unified front to their residents.

At a meeting of the rebel residents at Kfar Sava's Meir Hospital on Wednesday night that was attended by residents from 20 hospitals a decision was made to hold independent protests in each all the hospitals, with everyone following their own conscience.

Residents yesterday carried out local protests that did not violate the back-to-work order. Representatives of the residents said they intend to obey the injunction, and a demonstration planned in front of the Knesset was canceled.