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Hospital workers end partial labor stoppage in solidarity with cash-strapped Hadassah
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
09/02/2014
Dozens of doctors staged a demonstration in front of the prime minister's office, demanding that Binyamin Netanyahu intervene to solve the impasse.
 
The 6,000 staffers of the Hadassah Medical Organization’s two Jerusalem hospitals – who have been on a reduced Shabbat schedule for a week after being threatened by permanent wage cuts, reduced benefits and monthly paychecks paid in two installments – have received a gush of moral support.

On Sunday, thousands of doctors in public hospitals around the country left their jobs, except for emergencies, to attend workers’ assemblies from 10 a.m. to noon in sympathy with the Hadassah workers’ plight, while over 1,000 Hadassah employees demonstrated on the Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus campuses.

Hadassah’s nurses, together with the national nurses’ union, have threatened that if January wages are not paid in full by Sunday at midnight they will not work.

Doctors employed by Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) continue to function according to a reduced workload, which they began last week. Without full paychecks entering the banks, the two hospitals will, until further notice, begin to run on an emergency schedule, with fewer services than a Shabbat schedule and only lifesaving and urgent care, including delivery rooms, being provided.

The immediate spark for sanctions was news that management, with Treasury backing, was going to the Jerusalem District Court to freeze all of HMO’s financial obligations and put an external trustee, lawyer Lipa Meir, in charge along with director- general Avigdor Kaplan.

On Monday at 9 a.m., dozens of buses will carry HMO employees to the area in front of the Israel Museum, from where they will march at 10 a.m. to protest against the Treasury’s actions. On Tuesday between 10 a.m. and noon, workers from all sectors at hospitals around the country will again hold workers’ assemblies as a show of solidarity with their peers at Hadassah and their basic right to be paid for their work.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein met at the Knesset on Sunday with leaders of the hospital unions and declared that HMO must not shut down.

“I will give you all the parliamentary tools needed so you can voice your views,” he said.

“There is no point in finding blame for the crisis. What is important is to find a good and speedy solution, supporting the doctors, medicine and the Hadassah hospitals.”

The doctors who participated thanked Edelstein. They also charged that much of the media reporting on the issue was “untrue and even tainted by populism.”

In a statement issued Sunday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat declared that HMO “must not be allowed to collapse.”

“I call on all sides to cooperate to save Hadassah,” Barkat said.

“HMO is an integral part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel. I am taking action behind the scenes and am in touch with HMO management, doctors’ and other employees’ organizations, and with senior Health and Finance ministry officials to help the sides in their negotiations, and I will continue to do so.”

The head of the union of hospital doctors at Clalit Health Services, Prof. Zion Hagay, voiced his organization’s full support for “the just struggle” of the physicians and other employees at Hadassah.

“The Treasury’s unilateral actions will hurt them,” Hagay said. “The doctors of Clalit will take more serious action as long as the demand for fair negotiations is not carried out.”

Besides a tarnished reputation, HMO stands to lose a lot from the current imbroglio. Donations are liable to drop, medical tourists from abroad are likely to reconsider their plans to visit Hadassah, reduced hospital schedules will bring about a reduction in income, and young doctors have already begun to consider working elsewhere.

“There is no Jerusalemite who doesn’t know Hadassah hospitals, and there is no Israeli who is not proud of HMO’s contributions to the State of Israel,” Likud MK Reuven Rivlin said Sunday at the Ein Kerem campus during an emergency meeting on the crisis. “We tried to help without knowing the depth of the problems. Treasury officials said they would be solved.”

The former Knesset speaker called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene so that HMO can continue to lead Israeli medicine.

“Directed by the premier, Treasury officials need to sit with Hadassah and end this matter,” Rivlin said.

In a statement, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon called on Sunday for the nationalization of HMO and requested an urgent meeting of the plenum on the plight of HMO hospitals. However, it is extremely unlikely that this will happen, as the state has not built a new hospital for decades and regularly tries to cut government employees instead of adding thousands more.

The Knesset’s Finance Committee and Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee will hold urgent sessions on Tuesday to discuss the Hadassah crisis.
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