Our hearts are with the thousands of social workers who began an open-ended strike on Monday to protest what they describe as “a collapse of social services” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Estimated to number 23,000, the social workers have halted social services in government ministries and local authorities, demanding the Finance Ministry open negotiations over their desperate work conditions.They have been complaining for months about an overload of cases, low pay and a spike in workplace violence, made worse by the pandemic. Over the past month, they have marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and protested outside the Knesset and in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, to no avail. “An entire sector is being neglected, dried up and exhausted,” said social workers’ union chairwoman Inbal Hermoni. “Finance Ministry officials just want to break social services and shut them down. With no other option available to us, we have no choice but to strike... This will be the largest social services strike to ever take place in the country.”The Finance Ministry has so far refused to hold formal negotiations with the union, saying it will consider raising social workers’ salaries only after the coronavirus crisis ends. “Representatives of the ministry met with representatives of the social workers’ union and heard their arguments numerous times over the past few months,” it said. “Our door is open and we are ready to continue in-depth negotiations in the hope the union will not execute its threat to strike, especially during this time of the coronavirus crisis.”The union is threatening to continue its nationwide strike – its first since 2011 – until its demands are met. The social workers are demanding an immediate salary increase; a budgetary increase for welfare services in the state budget to cope with the pandemic; improved working conditions; and an additional NIS 150 million for security in welfare offices.The union, which has 5,000 members, reviewed 1,000 pay slips of social workers employed by local authorities and government ministries. It found that three-quarters were hired on a part-time basis, but that they actually worked full-time, earning an average of NIS 5,200 per month. The union says social workers with 10 years of experience earn an average of NIS 7,000 per month, going up to NIS 7,800 after another 10 years.Deena Wesfield, a juvenile probation officer who works for the government in Petah Tikva and made aliyah from Los Angeles, says the pandemic has exacerbated the already neglected situation of social workers. “Social workers have been overworked for years, but now during corona – when our population is affected financially, emotionally and psychologically – our caseloads have doubled,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Unfortunately, it’s come to a point where we have to strike. Social workers are being paid minimum wage and don’t have enough benefits. We also don’t have enough security, and I want to reiterate that the violence against social workers is on the rise and we’re not being protected as we should be.“Now that there’s a government to talk to, we have to make our voice loud and clear, speak for a system that has been neglected for too long, and stand up for the minimal rights that every worker deserves.” The union reported that more than 5,000 cases were opened with social services across the country in June – a 70% increase over last year. It attributed the rise to the socioeconomic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak, and predicted that this trend is likely to continue – and perhaps get even worse – in the coming months. The union also noted that according to a recent poll it conducted, a staggering 80% of social workers had experienced violence, with a third suffering physical attacks.The social workers are striking when the country needs them most. The social workers union, which is part of the Histadrut labor federation, was founded in 1937 by Henrietta Szold. In her spirit, we urge the government – and especially the Finance Ministry – to immediately open talks with the social workers to put an end to their strike, for the sake of the whole country.