Clalit workers set to strike Thursday

Clalit Health Services files request to issue injunctions forcing 30,000 employees back to work.

clalit hospital 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
clalit hospital 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The management of Klalit Health Services will file a request to issue an injunction to force the employees to work after some 30,000 nurses and maintenance, administrative and paramedical workers - but not physicians - in Clalit Health Services' hospitals and community clinics said they would strike for 24 hours starting with the morning shift on Thursday. The strike would cause 12 hospitals to stop working and the flow of services in others would be partial. The medical workers' union, headed by Prosper Ben-Hamu, is protesting against the announcement by the largest health fund that it will have to dismiss about 1,000 of its 36,000 employees after Pessah. Clalit management said it couldn't afford to keep all its workers because an arbitration agreement announced late last year will gradually raise the salaries of all public-sector doctors around the country, not only in Clalit but also in state-owned and voluntary organization hospitals and community facilities. Ben-Hamu said the workers would not allow the dismissal of even one staff member. "Clalit is not a factory that closes down a production line. Whenever one production line is shut down [in a health facility], all the others have increased demand for services. The dismissal trend on which Clalit's management has jumped is irresponsible," he said. The union head insisted that even now, the number of job slots in Clalit facilities was too small to cope with medical needs. The clinics will have no nurses or support staff, so services are expected to be minimal on Thursday. The union said it would not apply the one-day strike to Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva or the Beit Loewenstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Ra'anana. In addition, Clalit staffers will take care of emergencies, including oncology and intensive care in other Clalit hospitals. Clalit management said the health fund ended 2008 with a balanced budget and had thus received a special grant from the Treasury. However, decisions taken and approved by the Finance Ministry will give Clalit a deficit of NIS 775 million in 2009. These include the wage hikes for doctors, as well as increases for nurses, the erosion of funding from national health insurance and the raise in per-diem hospitalization rates for its members. "Clalit staffers, as full partners with our successes and due to the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, must join in the efficiency measures," the health fund management said. "They must contribute more and give up a little bit. In this way, we may be able to reduce the number of those dismissed, but our proposals have been rejected by the union." The Israel Medical Association said the arbitration process on doctors' wages had taken eight years, and that every health organization should have prepared in advance for its consequences. IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar said the "attempt to erect a barrier between the doctors and other workers will never succeed." Blachar added that the pay raises set in the arbitration were supposed to be 24 percent higher, but had been reduced due to the world economic slump. "The Clalit doctors' union and the Israel Medical Association are carrying out negotiations with the health fund on the efficiency plan, as has occurred in the past, on condition that the Finance Ministry and the government will take no more action against it," he said. Asked to comment, the Health Ministry spokeswoman referred reporters to Clalit management - even though the state hospitals are also seriously pressed financially by the doctors' wage hikes.