Nurses strike ends, sides to return to negotiating table

The Health Ministry applied for the court injunction early on Wednesday morning to force the end of strike action.

July 25, 2019 02:23
2 minute read.
Israel Nurses Union chairwoman Ilana Cohen with Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov

Israel Nurses Union chairwoman Ilana Cohen with Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov (R) after the debate at the Tel Aviv District Labor Court, July 24, 2019. (photo credit: MINISTRY OF HEALTH)

Strike action by the Israel Nurses Union came to an end on Wednesday after two days of disruption in hospitals and clinics across the country, with representatives ordered to return to the negotiating table with the Health Ministry.

The ministry applied for a court injunction on Wednesday morning to force the end of strike action, which commenced early on Tuesday following a lengthy dispute over working conditions.

Following a heated debate at the Tel Aviv District Labor Court, Judge Ariella GiltzerKatz ordered the union to return to the negotiating table, and for nurses to return to work until August 1.

“Although the strike will stop, the nurses’ protests will certainly continue,” said union chairwoman Ilana Cohen. “Unfortunately, in this country, they don’t talk with you until you go on strike. Today the court heard all our history with the health system. The nurses are collapsing and cannot continue, but we are not suckers. If the Health Ministry cooperates, we can find solutions within a week.”

Since May, negotiations between the union and the government over nurse workloads, insufficient staff numbers and the worsening of terms of employment and declining salaries have been unsuccessful.

The majority of nursing staff were instructed to walk out at 7 a.m. on Tuesday after the failure of last-ditch negotiations between representatives of the union and the Health Ministry. An additional meeting to break the deadlock on Tuesday evening similarly ended without agreement.

Significantly reduced nursing services have since been in operation to enable emergency treatment, but the strike has led to the postponement of thousands of operations, procedures and check-ups.

Approximately 1,000 operations and 40,000 outpatient and clinical procedures due to take place on Tuesday were postponed due to the strike action, according to Health Ministry data obtained by Yediot Aharonot.

The delays are estimated to cost the health system approximately NIS 15 million, and an additional NIS 3 million to NIS 5 million in extended hospitalization expenditure.

Health services affected encompass outpatient or ambulatory care including clinics, health institutes and daycare centers. Operating rooms and hospital departments will work with a reduced nursing staff.

According to statistics published by the OECD, Israel has 5.1 nurses per 1,000 inhabitants, significantly below the Western average of 9.3 nurses.

“Although both sides are angry, I am certain that in the end it will be agreed that both sides have advanced the Israeli health system,” said Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov. “We came here because we think the protests and strike are not good for the health system and the patients. We’ll think about how to make things easier for nurses, without harming the patients. Our ability to make significant changes during the election period is limited.”

The stand-off deepened on Tuesday when the Health Ministry instructed hospital and clinic managers that the wages of those responsible for the strike action should be docked by as much as 20%.

Despite the union’s protests, the court held that the ministry will be able to deduct wages as a result of the walkout.

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