Social workers to strike on Sunday

Union chief protests Treasury apathy, says weakest sectors will suffer most.

social worker protest 88 (photo credit: )
social worker protest 88
(photo credit: )
The government is not interested in hearing the voices of the country's weakest families and continues to ignore demands by social workers for increased manpower and resources to treat the neediest segments of society, according to Social Workers Union Director Yitzhak Perry, whose group is set to widen its continuing sanctions into a full-blown strike Sunday. "We have given ample warning about our intentions to strike," said Perry in a statement. "Those who will suffer the most are the weakest and poorest people in our society. Despite that, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and the Treasury have not even found the time to meet with us and hear our demands." He added that the government was "deaf to our cries that this country's social welfare system is on the verge of collapse." "The government has paid us hardly any attention over these past two months of sanctions," Mohanad Jabber, head of the social welfare department in the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, outside Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. "The voices of the country's weakest families are just not on their minds." Jabber, who is the only full-time social worker in his office along with a staff of four part-timers, pointed out that the "sanctions are really, really hurting those in society who need the most help." For the past two months, social workers countrywide have been refusing to accept new clients, assign foster homes for children at risk, distribute essential equipment to the elderly or submit recommendations for custody disputes. Representing more than 7,000 social workers countrywide, the union claims that current workloads, which stand at between 200-400 case files per worker, are unacceptable and do not allow them to do their jobs properly. "When we arrive in the morning to open the office, our clients are already waiting outside the door," said Jabber, highlighting that his tiny office treats roughly one-third of Abu Ghosh's 7,000-strong population. "Even though we come to work with different ideas to help our clients, we almost always end up spending the day just putting out fires and dealing only with the more extreme or severe cases." He noted that in his 15 years on the job, the village had seen a significant rise in the number of social welfare cases and a serious change in the nature of the social problems. However, his quota of social workers does not reflect that. "Where [social welfare cases] were once the concern of the entire community, there is now more emphasis on individuality," explained Jabber, adding that other issues included a large number of children in the village born with genetic problems due to intermarriage between close family members and a general breakdown in the traditional family structures, leaving many disenfranchised youth. "We need at least three more full-time social workers," added Jabber, who in addition to heading the office and serving as the village's child welfare officer must also share the caseload with his staff. He treats close to 100 families. Raja Abu Katish, a social worker in the Abu Ghosh office for the past 17 years, said that the most difficult part of the current situation, including imposing the sanctions and closing the office for the strike, was not being able to help those who really need her assistance. "We know most of the people in our village on a personal level," she said. "So even when we hold sanctions or strike, we still have to see them and we sometimes have no choice but to help them." In response to the impending strike, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry said that it sympathized with the plight and overload of the social workers but claims that budgetary constraints are the main obstacle. On Thursday, a ministry spokesperson said that negotiations with the Treasury on the issue had resumed.