5,000 social workers rally in capital amid negotiations

Latest round of negotiations between social workers, Treasury concludes without any breakthrough.

Social workers protest in the North 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers protest in the North 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers found their collective voice Tuesday as thousands of professionals from around the country gathered outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem for a mass protest over the government’s failure to meet their demands for a salary increase and improved work conditions.
The latest round of negotiations between the social workers and the Treasury at Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv concluded on Tuesday night without any breakthrough.
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Holding banners such as “No welfare without income” and “We want justice, not charity,” more than 5,000 social workers and their supporters cheered at speeches from an array of lawmakers, including MKs Uri Ariel (National Union) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), as well as leaders from the Social Workers Union.
Many of the protesters were social work students, who banged on drums and blew whistles while chanting slogans calling for the finance minister to show them some respect.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz did not make an appearance at the rally.
“We love our profession, and we do our work out of love, but it’s almost impossible to make a living and earn a wage with dignity,” commented Lotem Nimni, a social worker with five years’ experience in Modi’in Illit.
She added that for part-time work, her base salary was no more than NIS 2,400 a month.
“I just came back from maternity leave,” added her colleague Efrat Barzani, also from Modi’in Illit and with just under five years’ experience as a social worker. “I extended my maternity leave because it was not worth my while putting the baby in day care when my salary is so low.”
As Nimni and Barzani spoke out, their colleagues, including Modi’in Illit’s head social worker, Micky Miller, joined the discussion – a rare occurrence for social workers, who often shy away from the media because it is seen as a conflict of interest in a profession bound by strict confidentiality codes.
Miller, who is responsible for 25 social workers, mostly in various part-time positions, and whose department assists some 2,000 families, pointed out that the job could not be judged based on hours.
“It’s the kind of work that you can never switch off. We have to be available even when we are not officially on call,” she said, describing how last Shabbat, she had received a call at 2 a.m. from a girl who had been kicked out of her home and was sitting alone in the stairwell of her apartment building.
“I am religious, but I can’t just switch off the phone and not answer,” she said.
“You have to remember that the average family in Modi’in Illit has roughly eight children, and the type of social welfare problems are very serious,” added Yonit Avda, another Modi’in Illit social worker, who, with eight years’ experience, earns only NIS 5,500 a month after taking on two bonus emergency shifts a week.
“It’s not the kind of work you can just walk away from,” agreed Avda, who brought her baby to the demonstration.
“It’s work that you take home with you, and my children keep asking me to become a teacher because they want me to be freer for them.”
Another group of social workers at the demonstration was the team from the Hod Hasharon Municipality. Holding their signs up high, they were eager to talk about their commitment to the strike.
“We do very important work, and it is not easy for us to stop working, but we believe in the strike,” said Shlomit Ravid.
“I am a mother of four daughters, and I want to give them the message that we all have to fight for our future and for our rights,” added Ravid’s manager, Ricky Bitton.
“As social workers, we have to be role models for those that we are helping. How can we do this when we earn so little and have so many cases?” Bitton said the hardest part was not being able to work as social workers in the way they were taught.
“We have bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, we have additional training in how to work with weaker segments of the population, but the way the system operates today, we do not get the chance to sit with each person and really give them the treatment they need,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Social Workers Union is operating a hot line (1-700-700-331) for emergencies only, with only a handful of extreme, life-threatening cases receiving assistance.
Earlier Tuesday, media reported that a baby born to a surrogate mother had been waiting in the hospital since Sunday for social workers to facilitate the transfer from the surrogate to the parents.