Labor Court rules medical residents’ resignations illegal

After doctors ordered to work, hundreds submit resignations, mull hunger strike or High Court appeal.

September 5, 2011 01:20
Doctors protest in Haifa [File]

doctor strike haifa_311. (photo credit: Piotr Fliter/Ramban Medical Center)

In a unanimous ruling, the National Labor Court issued an injunction on Sunday morning ordering more than 1,000 medical residents who signed letters of resignation due to come into effect today to report to work as normal in government hospitals and health clinics without any further interference or disruption.

“Failure to report to work as stated will constitute an unauthorized abandonment of their jobs by the workers, and will be subject to the appropriate consequences,” the court ruled.

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Hospitals in crisis mode as residents set to resign

The judges also called on the Israel Medical Association to exercise its authority to “continue to do everything possible to facilitate normal and regular work in the hospitals.”

In the court’s ruling, which spans 42 pages, Labor Court President Nili Arad and Judges Yigal Plitman and Amiram Rabinovich decided that the resignation letters signed by the residents were illegal because of their collective nature, and were therefore invalid.

The court also issued an injunction forbidding residents from taking any further organized action in breach of their collective bargaining agreement.

Such collective measures would be considered as participating in an unauthorized strike, the court ruled.

The panel of judges also slammed Mirsham, the voluntary organization representing the residents and which organized the mass resignation campaign.

“All of Mirsham’s actions at this stage, which are unprecedented in case law, and which include the organized actions to bring doctors to resign... are contrary to the law and are prohibited,” the judges said.

The judges noted that Mirsham is not the official body representing doctors and said the voluntary group’s organization of the mass resignations was “illegal, undemocratic and fundamentally undermines labor relations by breaking the rules on which we all depend.”

The mass resignations came after residents objected to the agreement signed between the IMA and doctors’ employers regarding working conditions, following 158 days of intermittent doctors’ sanctions that severely disrupted the health system, and especially the hospitals.

In a statement on Sunday morning, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman welcomed the ruling, calling it an “important decision that reinforces the collective agreement that was reached, which will streamline the health system with a preference to the periphery, to the benefit of all doctors.”

However, Mirsham slammed the ruling in a statement, and talked of an “unprecedented moral crisis in which thousands of doctors – those who resigned and those who did not – are crying out that they cannot perform their duties under the existing public health system.”

Following the court’s ruling, the majority of residents did eventually show up for work on Sunday, according to attorney Yaniv Yogev, CEO of Mirsham.

“We told them to go to work, but if you read the court decision, Mirsham is not allowed to do anything,” he explained. “They’re really trying to freeze all actions that we’re doing. So we can’t tell them what to do even if it’s something legitimate – we can’t actually act.”

And while Mirsham representatives admitted they had largely expected the ruling, they said they remained “disappointed” and were considering their options for the future. Some such options include asking the High Court of Justice to overturn the ruling or signing new, individual letters of resignation, which some residents began to do throughout Sunday.

“We’re not organizing it but it’s natural – we know that these guys want to quit,” Yogev told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “So if they say they can’t do it in an organized way they’ll do it individually.”

Despite what he felt was a “harshly worded” court order against his group that was intended “to keep us quiet,” Yogev said he was still confident in the voluntary organization’s ability to overturn the ruling in the High Court.

“We believe that the High Court will reverse the ruling,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mirsham expressed its continued intention to split from the IMA, which is not interested in championing its members’ interests, according to Yogev.

“I believe that the IMA will continue to be against us,” he said. “I believe that the IMA is run by people whose interests are not the same as ours, and therefore they will try to keep us quiet and not allow us to protest in any way.

Eventually we will go our separate ways,” Yogev said.

Labor law expert attorney Asher Heled told the Post that residents’ chances of overturning the ruling in the High Court were slim.

“The residents can file a motion in the High Court,” Heled said.

“But the chances of success are not very good.”

According to Heled, the High Court set a precedent for ruling on the legality of collective resignation back in 1976.

In that case, which concerned the legality of a mass resignation at an electrical factory, the court ruled that if all workers decided together on an action, then it could be considered a strike.

“In this case, the residents have one voice, they have one lawyer and one spokesman. Their list of demands is a generic list. It all points to the fact that this was a collective action,” said Heled, who added that he thought the court’s ruling was correct.

Heled also pointed to the new nine-year collective agreement signed by the IMA, the official workers’ organization representing physicians, according to which no further doctors’ strikes would be permitted during that period.

“Collective agreements have considerable power in law,” he said.

Heled also expressed doubt as to whether the residents would be able to split from the IMA under the terms of the collective agreement, which the IMA signed on behalf of the residents.

“Creating a new union is not a trivial act,” he said.

As they digest the court’s ruling, residents are assessing their options and deciding what to do next.

Daniel Lantsberg, a first-year resident at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, expressed his disappointment with the current situation.

“I think it’s a very sad day for democracy in Israel. For the first time in our history people are being forced to go to work in a place from which they chose to be discharged,” Lantsberg told thePost on Sunday night, during a night shift at the hospital.

“We love our profession and we love our job, but each of us by ourselves have decided that we cannot stay in a system that does not respect us or our patients.

Unfortunately, the courts have ruled that we cannot quit our jobs.”

Although Lantsberg returned to work on Sunday in accordance with the court injunction, he continued his personal fight by handing in a new resignation letter that takes effect in 30 days.

“I personally again have resigned, again in my own handwriting in hopes that the High Court will rule that my previous resignation is legal,” he said.

Lantsberg said he believes that taking the case to the High Court could help the residents.

“We believe that that’s our best option,” he said. “They have ruled in the past in favor of various rights and this is our right to choose to be employed and under what terms.”

One other possible avenue for residents at Tel Hashomer would be a hunger strike, a method that some have already adopted, but not yet in any organized manner, according to Lantsberg.

“We’re still keeping our options open for the future and it’s definitely a way to go if we see that things are not going our way in the judicial system,” he said.

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