Nurses protest at Haifa University 370.
(photo credit: Hadar Zevulun)
The strength of organized labor differs radically from sector to sector. Take
Ashdod Port’s workers.
Because 1,300 longshoremen monopolize central and
southern Israel’s maritime artery to the world, they are in a unique position to
extract demands no matter how much these demands are disconnected from reality
or from good economic sense.
And the dockworkers are nobody’s fool. They
exploit their position to the hilt.
Just this week it was reported that
in accordance with a yet-to-be-signed agreement reached with the government in
May, about 140 longshoremen are slated to receive monthly wage hikes of between
NIS 3,500 and NIS 5,000. After a 9-percent salary hike just two years ago, the
average longshoreman receives a gross monthly salary of NIS 25,000, and some
earn as much as NIS 70,000. The average salary in Israel is about NIS 9,000, and
the medium salary is much less.
Pay increases enjoyed by the dockworkers
at Ashdod over the past few years have been granted with the understanding that
the port would gradually lose its monopoly over maritime commerce and be exposed
to competition. Dockworkers, however, have jealously guarded their monopoly and
have torpedoed reforms that would allow private businesses to run some of the
docks at Ashdod.
Similarly, Israel Electric Corporation workers, who are
in a position to pull the switch on the nation’s power, and Mekorot workers, who
control our water supply, enjoy an average monthly salary of NIS 22,000, among
the highest in the public sector. And railway workers, who control one of the
most important means of public transportation in the country, just signed a
particularly generous work agreement.
Under the circumstances, it was
refreshing and encouraging to witness the nation’s nurses reach an agreement
with the Treasury after “just” 17 days of labor sanctions.
longshoremen or the electric company workers, nurses, faced with the sick or
helpless, are unable to stage a full-fledged strike because they realize the
immediate, potentially fatal, consequences of such a move.
have a high level of sensitivity and compassion that attracted them to the
profession in the first place and that makes abandoning patients an
Nevertheless, the Treasury did not take advantage of the
compassion of some 28,000 nurses in the public health system and agreed to the
demand for a wage hike of 14%, or NIS 1,100 to NIS 1,600, to their basic monthly
salary over the next four-and-a-half years.
Most of the increase will be
made in the first year.
We hope the salary hike will improve the
sorrowful state of affairs in our nursing profession by attracting more women
and men to the field. According to a Health Ministry report released Sunday,
there is a significant dearth of nurses, which means those who are on the job
are severely overworked and are often forced to be on duty on Shabbat and on
holidays and to perform extra shifts and work overtime.
There are just
5.95 nurses per 1,000 Israelis compared to an OECD average of 8.6, according the
ministry report, and unless the trend changes, the situation will only get
worse: In 2011, just 12.1 Israelis graduated nursing school for every 100,000
residents, compared to an OECD average of 34.4.
The Treasury and Health
Ministry officials, including Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, should not
have put the nurses through 17 days of degradation.
Nurses’ demands were
modest and the labor dispute could have been avoided altogether. Instead, it was
disingenuously claimed that reaching a deal right before elections was an
But at least the Treasury and the Health Ministry quickly
backtracked and prevented even more suffering – for both nurses and for patients
forced to postpone non-urgent treatments and operations.
environment in which labor disputes are too often solved by force and coercion
and the strongest unions exploit their strength, the relatively quick conclusion
of the nurses’ strike is proof that things can be done differently.