National Labor Court orders doctors to return to work

Court President Arad says resignations are collective, therefore prohibited; notes "difficult, severe" time in history of healthcare system.

Doctors demo311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Doctors demo311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The National Labor Court issued permanent injunctions against medical residents on Wednesday morning, ordering them to return to work immediately.
Court President Nili Arad, Judge Varda Wirth Livne and Judge Ronit Rosenfeld accepted the state’s request to annul resignation letters submitted by medical residents, and ruled that the resignations were organized and collective in nature and thus prohibited.
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Failure to report to work would constitute an unauthorized abandonment by doctors of their jobs, and subject them to the appropriate consequences, the judges said.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Arad said that the country faced “the most difficult and severe time in the history of Israel’s public health system.”
Arad said the past few months have seen an “unprecedented upheaval in Israel’s health system” that reached its peak on Tuesday as 387 doctors from nine of the busiest and largest hospitals in the country resigned their posts.
A further wave of 700 resignations was expected that would lead to the complete collapse of the hospitals, seriously endangering human life, she said.
“This state of affairs is nothing less than a personal tragedy for medical residents and a general tragedy for the healthcare system as a whole and for the public,” Arad said.
She had previously asked residents and the state to do everything in their power to reach an agreement through negotiations, saying that a legal ruling would be “a catastrophe.”
State officials, hospital administrators and health service managers had expressed a willingness for dialogue, Arad said.
However, those negotiations failed and the court had no choice but to issue a legal ruling, she added.
Doctors had rejected Prime Minister (and Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposal – first raised weeks ago – to add “thousands of shekels a month” to the wages of residents if they signed a commitment to work only in public institutions, and not in private ones as well to earn more. But the residents said that the offer didn’t address them or their problems.
“Unfortunately, [the young] doctors’ representatives made it clear that under the circumstances they do not believe in the negotiations process and have insisted on resigning,” Arad said.
Wednesday’s ruling came after a nine-hour hearing that began late on Sunday afternoon and ran until early Monday morning, and in response to the state’s urgent request for injunctions after doctors expressed their intentions to resign.
During Sunday’s court hearing, doctors and Mirsham – Residents for Quality Healthcare, the voluntary organization representing some medical residents that organized the first mass-resignation campaign in September, argued that the current resignations were personal and therefore legitimate.
The Israel Medical Association, the official workers association representing physicians, said in court on Sunday that it did not agree with the young doctors conduct and that the IMA had done everything in its power to convince medical residents that resigning was not the right way to improve public health or doctors’ working terms.
The state contended that the doctors had participated in a “strike in disguise” to put pressure on their employers.
Dr. Eran Halperin, director of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, told the court on Sunday that the resignations represented a “black day for the healthcare system.”
“Even if their motives are correct, the way the young doctors are going about this is unacceptable to me, and their methods are extreme, disproportionate and violent,” he said. “I think all parties will regret this one day.”
Halperin said that the doctors meant to create “social pressure” by resigning.
Also during Sunday’s hearing, Health Ministry directorgeneral Prof. Roni Gamzu told the court that the situation, particularly in Ichilov, Rambam and Meir hospitals, was desperate and noted that one hospital had been forced to delay oncological surgeries for months.
Gamzu said the resignations were a “coordinated and organized protest, a general protest.”
More than 700 doctors, mostly medical residents from government-run hospitals in the center of the country, submitted resignations to take effect in October.
In its request for injunctions, the state said the resignations “would endanger human life, bodily integrity and public health.”
Arad emphasized in Wednesday’s ruling that the issue of whether doctors were right to make further financial demands was not in question, and the court had ruled only on whether their resignations were legitimate under collective labor law.
In the ruling, Arad noted that doctors had felt disappointment, frustration and anger about their work conditions.
“In this context, let it be clear – on a personal level, dissatisfaction with work conditions under a collective agreement can certainly be legitimate grounds for resignation,” she said.
However, the collective nature of the resignations rendered them illegitimate and in breach of doctors’ obligations to collective agreement clauses on conflict cessation, the judge explained.
“We are confident that doctors will report to work, continue there and will fulfill their duties as required,” Arad said.
Judy Siegel contributed to this report.