Medical lab workers strike kicks off today

Only essential tests to be taken

A medical technologist tests a respiratory panel at Northwell Health Labs, where the same test will be used on the COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, after being authorized to begin semi-automated testing by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Lake Success, New York, U.S (photo credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)
A medical technologist tests a respiratory panel at Northwell Health Labs, where the same test will be used on the COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, after being authorized to begin semi-automated testing by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Lake Success, New York, U.S
(photo credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)
Some 2,000 lab workers are set to strike beginning Sunday after negotiations between the country’s public labs and the Finance Ministry broke down on Thursday.
“I apologize on behalf of the 2,000 employees of the public medical laboratories in Israel for the inconvenience that will be caused to you tomorrow, with the outbreak of a strike in the laboratories in hospitals and at health funds,” said Esther Admon, chair of the Israel Association of Biochemists, Microbiologists and Laboratory Workers on Saturday night.
“Unfortunately, despite the coronavirus, the Israeli government despises and ignores us – the lab workers – despite the heavy responsibility on our shoulders and despite the fact that we risk our lives every day at work.”
Dr. Yifat Alcalay, head of the immunology lab at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, explained to The Jerusalem Post that these 2,000 workers are employed by the country’s public hospitals and Clalit Health Fund.
The other health funds, such as Maccabi and Meuhedet, run private labs and will continue to run coronavirus and other tests.
The workers will still carry out coronavirus testing for those who are hospitalized and in emergency situations. They will only report on coronavirus tests that are positive.
Alcalay noted that the public laboratories and the Finance and Health ministries have been in negotiations for five years. She said that the working conditions in public labs are among the worst in Israel, including that staff receive such low wages that it is almost impossible to recruit.
She said a lab worker with a master’s degree starts out at NIS 37 an hour and at his or her peak salary will make NIS 54. In private labs, she contented, workers make two to four times as much, with salaries starting in some cases at NIS 100 an hour.
“My workers retire, and I cannot rehire – I am not able to recruit,” Alcalay told the Post. “No one with a master’s degree is willing to work for these salaries.”
The lab workers are requesting a starting salary of at least NIS 50 per hour, a change in the operating schedule of the labs, a plan to correct deficiencies that were presented in the State Comptroller’s report, among other requests.
The strike came after earlier this month, the Health Ministry announced that it had committed NIS 4 billion for the next year and a half to ensure that the country is able to screen an average of 60,000 people per day for the novel coronavirus. The money is being invested in new, private contracts, including an expanded contract with MyHeritage.
“When the coronavirus pandemic broke out and it became clear to everyone how important it was to decipher laboratory tests, we mistakenly assumed that the Israeli government would wake up,” Admon said. “To our bitter surprise, the government gave us a resounding slap in the face. Instead of investing in the development and improvement of public laboratories and their dedicated workers... it signed secret agreements with private entrepreneurs.”
Alcalay noted that the public labs do not solely run coronavirus tests, but also process tens of thousands of other essential health tests, such as for cancer.
This will be the first strike by lab workers since 2018.
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.


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