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Nurses agreement expected to bring 'labor peace'
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
20/12/2012
Following 17-day strike, nurses, Treasury reach "historic" agreement; nurses to receive 14% salary hike.
 
After 17 days of sanctions that sharply curbed health services in public hospitals and the community, the Israel Nurses Association and Treasury wage division head Kobi Amsalem signed a new wage agreement late Thursday night.

Both the union and the government seemed satisfied with the accord, which replaces the nurses’ contract that expires at the end of December. The new accord gives 28,000 nurses in the public system average wage hikes of 14 percent – an increase ranging from NIS 1,100 to NIS 1,600 – to their basic monthly salary.

The agreement will be in effect for four-and-a-half years.

In addition, 1% of government funds for the accord will be differential (rather than uniform) payments to some nurses to “solve problems in the profession.”

This is understood to mean that younger nurses, those in the periphery and those in undermanned specialties will earn more.

The nurses will also be entitled to receive additional wage increases that will be granted in the future to public employees of all kinds.

The negotiations, supervised by National Labor Court President Nili Arad, had its ups and down, with union head Ilana Cohen saying as late as Wednesday afternoon that the nurses were ready to strike even beyond the day of Knesset elections on January 22. But the Treasury and Health Ministry officials also exaggerated, saying from early on that it would be “impossible” for this government to sign an agreement before the election, when the budget was “frozen.”

The 14% increase, which was announced by the nurses but not the Treasury, will be paid in a few increments over the life of the contract, but most of money will be added to salaries before the end of the first year.

Cohen said she was “happy for the people of Israel. The agreement that was signed recognizes the distress in the nursing profession and provides a solution to increasing manpower. It will make nurses attractive enough to make nursing more attractive.”

Amsalem said he was pleased with the agreement, as it will “encourage entry into the nursing profession and bring a significant period of labor peace and stability” to the health system.

The accord, said Amsalem, will be especially beneficial for those with low wages and encourage overtime.

The rate of nurses compared to the population is one of the smallest among OECD member countries.

The Treasury’s deputy budget director, Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov, said the agreement “properly balances the need to encourage more people to enter the profession and existing nurses to work overtime, with the future challenges to the state budget in the near future.”

The cancellation of tens of thousands of elective medical procedures in hospitals and community facilities caused millions of shekels of damage to the health system; some patients went to private hospitals and clinics to get treatment instead of waiting. It could take many weeks and even months for the public health system to eliminate the queues caused by the sanctions.

The vaccination of babies and toddlers against childhood diseases by nurses in well-baby (tipat halav) stations is among the most urgent tasks, along with vaccinations and health checks of elementary school children by the School Health Service, which was privatized by the Treasury and Health Ministry several years ago and regarded by public health experts as highly inferior to the previous services.

Commenting on the agreement, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon said Thursday that it could have been achieved without “wasted time and low-level mudslinging produced by public relations advisers of the Finance Ministry and [Deputy] Health Minister [Ya’acov Litzman] “It was achievable 17 days ago,” he insisted at an elections panel at a high school in Rishon Lezion. “It was a struggle not only of the nurses but of most of the public, who do not receive major financial benefits and can easily be dismissed, carrying the whole burden by themselves.”
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