Angry social workers vow to strike again in 2014

Union head insists new agreement was the best deal they could have gotten.

Social workers demonstration 311  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers demonstration 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers returned to work Tuesday feeling dejected and let down, but vowing to resume the fight for better work conditions as soon as possible and prepare for the next strike in 2014, when the agreement reached Monday night between the Social Workers Union and the Treasury expires.
“I’m sure there will be another strike in 2014,” commented Inbal Hermione, spokeswoman of the social workers movement Atidenu and herself a social worker.
She said that the movement, which spearheaded many of the demonstrations and rallies held over the past few weeks, had already called for a steering committee meeting on Wednesday to prepare for future action, both within the social worker community and beyond.
“We do not feel good about this agreement at all, everyone is disappointed and we all feel that we should have stuck it out in order to get a better deal,” said Hermione, who took a day’s vacation on Tuesday in order to mentally prepare herself for returning to work after the intensive three-week battle.
The social workers had called for substantial salary increases for their work in both the public and private sector, as well as an overhaul of the entire pay scale, which has not been adjusted since the last strike, 17 years ago.
The final agreement saw only a fraction of their demands met, with an average pay increase of 22.5 percent to be spread out over the next three years, as well as a handful of additional benefits for clothing and pensions.
In addition, social workers in the private sector – many of whom work for charities utilized by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry under privatization schemes – will earn a minimum wage of NIS 7,100.
“We came back to work today and spent the first few hours discussing the outcome,” said one Tel Aviv municipal social worker.
“Everyone is depressed, we feel that we were lied to from the beginning and the atmosphere is really heavy.
“Two of the younger girls, who earn very low salaries, were actually crying, and another colleague, who is 62, was so disappointed because she was hoping for a real change before she retires in five years.”
The social worker added: “There has already been talk of striking again in 2014 when this agreement ends, and we all want to see changes within the union, perhaps even a split from the Histadrut, which we feel sold us out from the start.”
Nitza Becker, a Nesher-based social worker, echoed similar sentiments: “They all let us down – the Treasury, the Histadrut, the union, even the minister [Moshe Kahlon].
They are cowards and decided our fate before we even began taking action.”
She added: “Here most of us are saying that we would have preferred to have been forced back to work with nothing and gone on to another battle than accept this awful deal.”
Becker, who like other social workers is unlikely to be paid for the three weeks she did not work, said she felt the disappointing results were partly due to political elements but also because most the sector is female and because of the type of the work they do.
“The port workers went on strike for three hours and they got what they wanted,” she pointed out. “The problem is that our clients do not have the power to speak out on our behalf; all this country cares about is money. They do not realize that they are really hurting those who need our help.
“Personally I am very angry with the judge,” continued Becker, adding: “Last week, the Tel Aviv District Court decided that the Treasury’s offer was not fair, but then they turned to the National Labor Court, which sold us out.
“Of course, they did not do that when the prosecutors were on strike; no one tried to force them back to work, and despite the fact that their salaries were already higher than ours are, they got good results in the end.”
The outcome of the labor dispute was also received critically by social work students, who said the agreement would affect them the most.
“The Treasury made a very cold decision without really knowing or understanding the nature of our profession,” commented Michal Zelba, a third-year social work student at Tel Hai College.
“I am sure that other professions will laugh at us; it is still shocking to me that one in four new social workers earns only NIS 2,299 a month with income support to top it up, and after years on the job can only reach NIS 5,500 a month. It’s a joke and makes us feel as though the work we do is not important or effective.
“Everyone seems to forget that thousands of people visit social workers, and at some point in our lives we will all need one for whatever reason,” she said, adding that despite the outcome she still plans to look for work in the field when she graduates in four months.
“I just hope that the economic situation will improve or maybe I will go abroad or something,” she said.
Well aware of the criticisms and calls for him to resign, Social Workers Union head Itzhak Perry told The Jerusalem Post: “Success is subjective and the situation needs to be put in proportion.”
“The enemy of ‘good’ is always ‘better,’ and of course it would have been better if we had received an increase three times as much,” he said, pointing out that despite the outcome, the battle had ignited a willingness in the sector to fight for their rights in a way it has not done for nearly two decades.
“The strike turned on a switch that had been off for 17 years, and suddenly all the frustration started pouring out,” said Perry, adding that hopes for substantial change were very high, but in the end the union made a democratic decision that the offer from the Treasury was the best deal they could get at this stage.
“Our union is a very democratic organization, and every decision is made in a very democratic way,” he explained.
“In the end, the judge told us that if we tried to add additional points, then the offer from the Treasury would be taken off the table, and we would have had to start all over again from zero. The union listened to her advice and made the decision to go back to work.”
“I do think, however, that social workers will feel the benefit of this agreement on their next pay slip. Those who are earning NIS 4,280 a month will see their salary jump to NIS 6,200, and that is a serious increase,” said Perry.
“In the end, I think this is a good agreement and one that I can be at peace with. Is it the best deal ever? No, of course not. But we will not stop fighting.”