‘Low wages for academic biochemists and microbiologists endanger public health’

Microbiologists and biochemists earn only .12 cents more than the minimum wage, despite holding masters and doctoral degrees.

Lab technician using microscope (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Lab technician using microscope
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Laboratory biochemists and microbiologists with master’s and doctoral degrees earn a demeaning salary of NIS 27 per hour, forcing many of them to leave the profession and causing staffing shortages, the Knesset State Control Committee learned on Tuesday.
This month the minimum wage for adults was raised to NIS 26.88.
Committee chairman Shelly Yacimovich said that medical labs in the Health Ministry and the health system are on “the verge of collapse,” and that this will directly harm public health.
“The situation of the labs is unacceptable. The professionals are committed and talented people with a high level of education and a tremendous responsibility for public health, despite their meager wages, lack of standardization and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements. This is one of the professions in which there is the greatest gap between the skills and education of the employees and the compensation, which is clearly demeaning,” Yacimovich said.
She continued that the “disgraceful conditions prevent the recruitment of additional professionals, creating a shortage of personnel, which ultimately comes at the expense of patients and patients. The wages of laboratory workers require a shift to personal contracts.”
Health Ministry associate director- general Prof. Itamar Grotto told the committee that his office “has a budget to deal with the problems, but the absence of a new wage agreement in the public sector limits our ability to raise the wages of laboratory workers.”
He added that the ministry submitted a proposal to the civil service commissioner on the matter, but is waiting for a reply from the Treasury’s wage division chief on a new wage agreement. “We are aware of the problem and agree with what is written in the report, but we are limited in terms of our ability to discuss things until there is a new agreement for 2018.”
Grotto said the ministry wants to separate the activity of the laboratories in the ministry into two – to regulate and to manage the laboratories’ activities so that it could increase supervision and enforcement. “It’s important to note that modern technology allows us to do a blood test within a few seconds in the ambulance; the whole world is going in that direction.”
State Comptroller’s Office division chief Dan Bental said that almost every patient needs laboratory services. Last year’s Comptroller’s Report pointed to severe shortcomings, mainly because the Health Ministry has only partial authority for the labs and “turns them into a kind of backyard of the ministry. There is no standard for manpower, and therefore every hospital director appoints lab personnel at his own discretion.”
Esther Admon, chairman of the Israel Association of Biochemists and Microbiologists, said: “Over the years, the labs have been neglected. Despite ongoing warnings since 2010, our salaries have not been updated and the labs have not adapted itself to regulatory requirements. Today, all employees are academic. In the wage agreement two years ago, we received a 7.5% increase beyond the general increase in the economy, but the gap between us and the colleagues is still enormous.”
She complained that young people do not seek work in the labs. Only 7% are young, and 40% are close to retirement or after pension age but still working. While there are kits in pharmacies to test for hemoglobin and other factors, they are not accurate, Admon said. “These are simply dangerous to public health, as doctors will not give a correct diagnosis if there are no good tests in realtime. The entire health system relies on medical labs.”