Nurses back at work after late-night deal

Following 17-day strike, nurses, Treasury reach "historic" agreement; nurses to receive 13% salary hike.

Nurses protest at Haifa University 370 (photo credit: Hadar Zevulun)
Nurses protest at Haifa University 370
(photo credit: Hadar Zevulun)
Public health nurses returned to work on Thursday morning after Israel Nurses Union and the Finance Ministry reached an agreement late Wednesday night following a 17-day strike.
The strike ended after the sides agreed to raise nurses' salaries 13 percent. Two days earlier, talks failed over a 12 percent wage increase.
The Treasury will increase the salaries gradually over 4.5 years, hiking up the salaries 3.1 percent per year over the contract period.
Israel Nurses Union chairwoman Ilana Cohen said of the deal: “I am satisfied by the agreement and my nurses are also happy with it," Israel Radio reported.
The parties reached an agreement after several hours of talks mediated by the head of the National Labor Court, Judge Nili Arad.
According to Israel Radio, after a negotiations marathon the two sides announced to Arad that an “historic agreement” had been reached.
Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich welcomed the agreement Thursday morning, but criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's handling of the matter.
"It's good that this this saga has come to an end" Yachimovich said, but added that it was a shame that the nurses had to go through such a tedious process to get there.
"The prime minister is far from demonstrating leadership in this matter, and chose, as per usual, to deal only with matters that were convenient for him, and ignored their cries for a long time," she continued.
"The nurses fought not only for themselves, but for normal public health services in Israel, but Netanyahu did not think this was a worthy goal," Yachimovich stated. "A responsible government is one that listens to distress as it happens and knows how to reach a solution in time."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai also praised the agreement, saying that it is the state's responsibility to know how to appropriately reward its employees.
"The reality in which nurses, who work day and night, did not receive the appropriate compensation, at the same time as the Treasury knew to go above and beyond for other organizations and employees that are less essential - did not make sense," Yishai said.
Attorney Kobi Amsalem, responsible for wages and wage agreements in the Finance Ministry stated that the monetary increase will "encourage entry into nursing... and bring a significant period of peace and stability in the health care system - for the greater benefit of the patients."
He thanked the minister of finance, attorney general, president of the National Labor Court and the prosecutor's office, for accompanying the negotiations and helping to bring the dispute to an end.
Deputy Budgets Director Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov said the agreement "reflects an appropriate balance between the need to provide incentives to enter into the profession, and between the budget challenges to be expected in the near future."
Commenting on the nurses’ agreement, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon said on Thursday that it could have been achieved without "wasted time and low-level mudslinging produced by public relations advisers of the Finance Ministry and [Deputy] Health Minister [Ya’acov Litzman]. It was achievable 17 days ago," he insisted at an elections panel at a high school in Rishon Lezion. "It was a struggle not only of the nurses but of most of the public, who do not receive major financial benefits and can easily be dismissed, carrying the whole burden by themselves."
The National Labor Court had not issued restraining orders, as the Treasury cancelled its original request for them after the court sided with the nurses, who argued that the Treasury was "not negotiating seriously."
The Health Ministry left the whole labor dispute to the Treasury to negotiate and make statements to the public.
The strike ended just in time, as health experts worried that if it continued for any longer, tens of thousands of operations and other medical procedures would be postponed and  disease outbreaks could occur.
Since the sanctions began by 28,000 nurses in hospitals and community health facilities, vaccinations of infants, schoolchildren and adults have not been carried out. The Israel Pediatrics Society warned that thousands of babies and toddler have not received shots against whooping cough, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A and B, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and other diseases. In addition, the Health Ministry’s district health offices have also not given travellers vaccinations.