Israel Nurses Union chief Ilana Cohen said at the end of the first day of sanctions on Monday that they will continue them until the Treasury decides to be “more generous,” such that nurses will be attracted to the profession and willing to do their difficult work.

The nurses will continue to work according to a reduced Shabbat schedule on Tuesday, except those at the Maccabi and Leumi health funds, who are not represented by the Histadrut.

“They are offering us NIS 100 more for a long night shift,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night before going into 7 p.m. talks with senior Treasury officials.

“It is not enough,” she said. “Who will do a night shift for that?” Cohen also castigated the Treasury for constantly postponing negotiations with the nurses, whose wage contract expires in January and who were promised that talks would begin in September.

But then, the Finance Ministry said that elections were coming and that decisions could not be made until a new government is formed.

Treasury wage officials said that if Cohen were “flexible,” progress in a new wage contract could be reached even before the election on January 22. They added that the Treasury has allocated more money to increase the number of new nursing students from 1,190 in 2008 per year to approximately 1,500 today. It also gave scholarships, rental assistance and ensured employment during their working life.

But they conceded that they will not immediately ease the serious shortage of nurses in the hospitals and the community. With a bachelor’s degree in nursing and working 176 hours a month including shifts, a nurse with a minimum of two years’ experience could earn a gross monthly salary of NIS 11,000, the Treasury says.

The Treasury is willing to give more money to hospital nurses who do night and weekend shifts than to community nurses who do not do shifts, but Cohen insists that all get the same increase.

In an official statement, the Finance Ministry said the nurses’ strike was “illegal and unjustified.”

“The nurses union was offered significant proposals, but apparently, its members decided to strike in any case at the expense of patients. They promised not to strike at least until the end of December,” the ministry said.

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon charged that the Treasury “rejected the nurses time and again and ignored agreements it had signed with them. They had no choice but to apply sanctions.”

The nurses are protesting not only against inadequate wages but also the number of nurses employed – at a rate at the bottom of OECD rankings.

The Health Forum for the South offered its support for the “nurses’ justified struggle but is worried about harm to patients in the South.”

The forum called for an immediate solution of the crisis along with long-term planning of nursing manpower and reducing the health gap between the Center and the periphery.

Hadash MK Dov Henin attacked the “lack of intervention” by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally health minister, in the nurses’ dispute and called for recognizing nursing as a “preferred profession” with special benefits.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who is leaving negotiations to the Treasury, said yesterday that while he had sympathy for the nurses, he agreed with the initial Finance Ministry position that nothing substantial could be accomplished until after the upcoming election.

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