High Court gives residents deadline for negotiations

Doctors had petitioned against a National Labor Court ruling annulling their resignations and ordering them to return to work.

October 25, 2011 20:05
IMA protest

IMA protest 311. (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)

The High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday evening ordering residents to notify the court by noon on Wednesday whether they agree to return to negotiations with the Finance Ministry.

Justice Hanan Melcer’s ruling came after a preliminary hearing of a petition filed by residents, who had asked for an injunction overturning a National Labor Court’s ruling that doctors’ resignations constituted an illegal strike.

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Residents had first threatened the mass resignation in late August in protest against a wage agreement between the Finance Ministry and the Israel Medical Association.

However, the National Labor Court twice ruled the resignations were collective in nature and therefore invalid.

If residents agree to further negotiations, the state will have to respond by Thursday morning as to whether it agrees to talks without conditions.

However, if both parties cannot agree to return to the negotiating table, the High Court will hold a hearing on the petition and will issue a legal ruling.

The justice warned that any ruling made by the High Court would likely be “sharp.”

However, the justice also admonished the state, saying that it “needed to have flexibility and creativity to find a solution [to the dispute].”

Nevertheless, Melcer expressed optimism that both sides could reach an agreement through negotiations.

The six residents named on the petition argue that their resignation letters are not part of any collective dispute, as the Labor Court had ruled, but were personal decisions to leave their posts.

The National Labor Court’s ruling, they said, amounts to “modern day slavery” and violates the Basic Law on Freedom of Employment.

They also contend that their working conditions contravened the law, that the labor court had injured their basic rights and that the labor court ruling had been fundamentally flawed.

Melcer criticized as “a little disingenuous” the petitioners’ resignations and said that they had admitted they would not want to return to the health system even if their wages were doubled.

“Some of the petitioners are very active; they are the top leadership,” said the justice, referring to petitioner Dr. Yona Weissbuch, a resident at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva and chairman of Mirsham, the advocacy group that campaigned for the doctors’ resignations.

Despite these harsh words, Melcer also said that the nine-year collective labor agreement the Israel Medical Association had reached with the government was problematic.

The state opposes the petition and had asked the court to throw it out.

“This is not a fight for the future of public health, but a demand for a salary increase,” the state said in a 64-page response to the court on Monday.

The medical residents also received little sympathy in their struggle from Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who next week will conclude more than a decade as directorgeneral of the Hadassah Medical Organization and who is one of the country’s most respected medical administrators.

In a meeting on Monday with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, his deputy MK Yitzhak Cohen and senior Treasury officials, Mor-Yosef said the young doctors have applied their power in an “unacceptable and exaggerated” way and have “not honored the labor courts.”

Their “undefined representation allows itself to come to talks one time and then refuse to come the next time. We ask ourselves what will satisfy the lion. They are offered a [monthly] grant of NIS 2,000, but want NIS 8,000,” Mor-Yosef continued.

Mor-Yosef, who as head of Hadassah and as an employer was actively involved in negotiations with the Israel Medical Association and later with the residents, added, “There are those who didn’t like the fact that differential wage increases were given [in the Treasury’s labor agreement in August with the IMA] and not equally to all.”

He referred to the fact that doctors in the periphery will gain substantially more than those in the center, where the level of and access to medical care is higher. All of the residents who have threatened to resign work in the center.

“They didn’t study medicine for seven years and five more to become specialists to go into hi-tech or treat patients in Australia,” which the residents are threatening to do if they don’t persuade the Treasury to give them much more money, Mor- Yosef said.

Wolfson Medical Center deputy director-general Zahavit Ziv-Ner added that “some of the residents don’t know for what they are being so militant. Some of them resigned in solidarity but worry that they won’t be accepted back at work.”

Prof. Michael Scharf, director- general of Soroka University Medical Center, said that medical specialists must do shifts to ensure a “sane amount” of night and weekend duty for the residents and raise the quality of public medicine,” but that the residents, in fact, oppose this.

Dr. Ehud Davidson, head of the hospital division of Clalit Health Services, said that “we sat in discussions and saw that the residents were drunk with power and had crossed all the red lines. The time has come to stop all this.”

Cohen said the state does not intend by any means to reopen the labor agreement with the IMA, but that it was willing to give increments in exchange for more work in the public health system.

Steinitz concluded that the residents are very important and contribute much, but that signed wage agreements with the legally representative group (the IMA) must be honored.

Meanwhile, MK Dov Henin blamed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is also the health minister, for the crisis in public medicine exemplified by residents from the center trying to resign en masse.

“Netanyahu is the one who led, as finance minister and as prime minister, a terrible decade of murderous diets for public services, including in the health system. Only genuine budgetary investment in rehabilitating the system can resolve the crisis,” he said.

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