Hospitals in crisis mode as residents set to resign

State petitions labor court for urgent injunction against residents; Health Ministry says "illegal" resignations will cause public suffering.

Doctors demo311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Doctors demo311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As state hospitals across the country prepare for a walkout on Sunday after over 1,000 residents submitted resignation letters, the State Attorney's Office petitioned the National Labor Court on Thursday with an urgent request for a last-minute injunction to prevent the planned mass resignation.
The petition, which was filed by attorneys Orit Podemsky and Doron Yefet of the Tel Aviv Prosecutor's Office, named the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and Mirsham ('prescription'), a four-year-old nonprofit organization with around 800 residents and intern members.
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The1,000-strong group of medical residents submitted resignation letters, due to take effect Sunday, following disagreements over a collective bargaining agreement signed between the state and the IMA recently. 
The petition against the mass resignation follows an announcement by the Health Ministry on Wednesday that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had considered the resignations as illegal because of their collective nature.
“Because the resignations are not valid, residents who submitted letters are considered employees in every way and their employment status has not changed; therefore, they are obliged to report to work on Sunday, September 4,” the Health Ministry said in a statement that day.

In its petition to the Labor Court,  the state argues that the resignations "could cause severe harm to members of the public who are ill, on top of the considerable suffering they already experienced as a result of the lengthy strike."

The state asked the court to consider whether the collective resignation letters are a legitimate measure for the doctors to have taken, and said that although the letters were each an individual act, in reality the mass resignation amounted to a strike.

"Each act that leads to the disruption of organized labor relations is a strike," said the state. "This is a case of organized disorder dressed up to look like letters of resignation."

The state also slammed Mirsham, accusing it of using the collective resignation letters as a "means of putting pressure" on the government and an "illegitimate organizational step".

"This behavior by a group of workers who are members of [Mirsham], and the exploitative way in which they are advancing their own interests, is an deliberate and unacceptable use of prohibited force," the state said in the petition.

The petition also accuses Mirsham of making "background noise" that has inhibited negotiations between the state and doctors.

The state pointed to letters the nonprofit group has written inviting residents to an "emergency conference to save public medicine", in which Mirsham called for doctors to join in the mass resignation.

The petition also includes a copy of the resignation letter Mirsham has asked residents to sign, which is still available on the organization's website, together with a list of the names of residents who have signed the letters.

"We are fighting for our patients, respect for our profession and for our future as physicians," the resignation letter reads. "[While we do not] wish to threaten, we will have to use the legitimate and powerful tool that we have as a united group, and that tool is resignation."

Meanwhile, Mirsham, who have hired attorney Tal Keret, head of the labor law department in the Zissman-Aharoni-Geyer Law Office, to represent them, maintained that the letters of resignation were, in fact, legal.

“Each and every one of the resigning surgeons signed his resignation letter personally. They did it 30 days ago. The fact that the state attorney waited until the last workday before 'D-Day' is a clear indication that they don’t believe in their own legal ‘opinion’ and are doing it in out of desperation,” Yaniv Yogev, a lawyer and CEO of Mirsham, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“The resigning [residents] simply did not want to continue working in the present conditions, especially after realizing the new agreement will only perpetuate these conditions,” Yogev continued. “We are living in a free country and no one is obligated to work against his will.  I personally do not believe the court would allow such a breach in basic civil rights and it is very sad that the state is actually trying to receive an anti-democratic ruling.  If the state thinks that the [residents’] conditions are fair, let them try and hire 1,067 interns to replace those who quit. If they can’t do that, I suggest that they seriously consider changing the agreement.”

Attorney Orna Lin, who is representing the IMA, did not respond to requests to comment on the petition.
Meanwhile, state hospitals up and down the country are preparing to implement emergency plans ahead of the mass walkout expected on Sunday.

Already on Tuesday, the Health Ministry had canceled all vacations of doctors at Ichilov Hospital (Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center), Sheba Medical Center, Assaf Harofeh Medical Center and Bnei Zion Hospital from September 4 until further notice, including breaks normally taken in October and November for exam preparations, a statement from the ministry said. Meanwhile, hospital administrators were also instructed to submit lists of physicians planning to go on reserve duty to the IDF, in order to have them released from their assigned service.

A Health Ministry statement stressed on Thursday that despite televised news reports indicating that a hospital chairman told people not to show up to work on Sunday, the Health Ministry demands that employees do in fact work that day and remember that only the ministry can make such orders.

When contacted by the Post late in the afternoon on Thursday, a public relations secretary at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said that hospital staff were in meetings trying to determine how exactly they would prepare for Sunday, and that they do not have a clear answer as of yet.