Emergency calls rise since start of social workers' strike

Over 1,400 emergency calls received by hotline since strike began 17 days ago.

March 22, 2011 04:04
3 minute read.
Striking social workers demonstrate in North

Social Workers 311. (photo credit: RUTH EGLASH)


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As the social workers’ strike enters its 17th day, both the National Union of Social Workers’ emergency hot line and the Welfare and Social Services Ministry’s Citizens Advice Bureau say that not only has the number of calls continued to increase, but the intensity of requests for help has deepened.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the union said that some 1,400 emergency calls had been received at its 1-700-700-331 hot line, and the Citizens Advice Bureau, which is operated by ministry employees and can be reached by dialing 118, said it had collected roughly 2,000 calls since the labor dispute started.

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Both lines said the calls covered a wide range of social welfare issues, and noted that out of all the requests for help, only a small percentage had been considered lifethreatening enough to warrant an immediate response.

“We have received roughly the same number of calls that we do on a regular basis, but the type of calls we are getting are completely different,” commented Oded Aron, manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau, which deals with all types of social welfare and citizens’ rights issues connected to the ministry.

Aron cited a spurt in calls from divorcing couples – usually reliant on social workers to oversee the smooth running of custody agreements – who could not manage visitation rights without some type of intervention from a third party.

He also said that some 30 women had been referred to battered women’s shelters country-wide, which is usually the role of social workers at the local municipality level.

“The question is, if this strike continues, whether there is a way to replace the striking social workers,” said Aron. “I don’t feel they can be replaced because those who work in the field are the only ones who really know the people and understand their problems. We are doing what we can, but we cannot really address such problems in an adequate way.”

He added, “I just hope that the strike ends quickly, before there is a real disaster.”

On Sunday, the Social Workers Union rejected outright the Treasury’s offer to raise salaries by roughly 25 percent and provide a handful of other benefits, saying that the changes did not go far enough in overhauling the system and preventing another labor dispute in a few years.

A representative of the union said that the action would likely continue for a few more days at least, while its members debate how to respond to what it believes is the Finance Ministry’s failure to present a concrete offer to improve social workers’ salaries and work conditions.

“There is no real offer on the table, and we plan to meet in the next two days to discuss our next course of action,” said the union’s spokeswoman.

“This is a very difficult situation for the social workers,” she added. “There are a growing number of people who feel they are neglecting their professional commitment by not taking care of the people who need their help. They feel that they should be returning to work and are happy with the pay raise, but there are others who see this as a social battle, and they want to make real change in Israeli society.”

The social workers’ strike started on March 6, with roughly 10,000 employees from the public sector refusing to see clients and perform their regular duties. The main thrust of their demands focused on increasing salaries, which can sometimes be as low as minimum wage and often reach only NIS 5,800 even after many years in the field. The strike followed more than six months of negotiations with the Treasury to adjust the pay scales, which have not been amended for more than 17 years.

A Finance Ministry spokeswoman said that the Treasury had no response Monday to the social workers’ refusal to accept its offer.

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