Social workers feel let down by minister, Histadrut

"Even though we fight for the rights of the weak in society, we are also entitled to fight for our own rights."

Social Workers 311 (photo credit: RUTH EGLASH)
Social Workers 311
(photo credit: RUTH EGLASH)
As the social workers’ strike reaches the end of its third week, some in the profession are feeling increasingly let down by those at the helm of negotiations with the Treasury to increase salaries and overhaul existing pay scales, The Jerusalem Post learned Wednesday.
“We are very disappointed with the minister of welfare and social services [Moshe Kahlon] and with [Histadrut Labor Federation chairman] Ofer Eini, who both said the strike is hurting the weakest elements in society and we should go back to work,” commented Jerusalem municipal social worker Shuli Gerson.
“Even though we fight for the rights of the weak in society, we are also entitled to fight for our own rights. If the port workers even threaten to strike, an immediate solution is found and they receive an addition to their salary – but they are not willing to do the same for us.”
Gerson said that despite an offer from the Treasury to increase salaries by some 25 percent, to which Eini and Social Workers Union head Itzhik Perry agreed in principle, the overall conditions were not acceptable and the “fight must continue.”
“On the surface you see an increase of 25%, but when you break it down, it is not what it seems,” explained social worker Inbal Hermoine, spokeswoman for Atidenu, a movement for social workers.
“All civil service workers were set to get a 7% increase anyway, and 4% of the raise is linked to working an additional hour and a half a week,” she said. “That leaves a 14% rise, which the Treasury wants to spread out over the next three years. This is not acceptable.”
Both Hermoine and Gerson also criticized the Social Workers Union for changing its direction and not sticking with the original demands to update existing pay scales, which have not changed in more than 17 years.
A spokeswoman for the union confirmed to the Post on Wednesday that it had rejected the Treasury’s offer and after an emergency meeting Tuesday was looking for a way to restart negotiations with Finance Ministry representatives. However, she denied media reports that the union felt abandoned by the Histadrut, which is meant to represent the union’s interests in such labor disputes, saying.
“They are still protecting us and they were the ones who spoke out at the labor court hearing on Tuesday,” she said.
The Treasury turned to the Tel Aviv Labor Court on Tuesday requesting legal intervention to force some 1,600 social workers in the public sector to return to work. The request was denied, with the judge affording the union one more week to find a reasonable solution to the dispute.
In the court’s ruling, the judge referred to comments made by Eini earlier this week where he said the strike had “lost all sense of proportion” and that the offer on the table was as far as it could go.
On a Facebook page set up by social workers called “Social Workers Struggle 2011,” many of the 10,000 members grumbled that those leading the negotiations had made key mistakes, with some even calling for Perry to resign.
“It’s not like we are on a break,” Gerson pointed out.
“We are working hard going from protest to protest. We are not ready to go back to work yet because the offer is simply not acceptable.”
A spokesman for Kahlon said that the minister felt the battle had gone far enough.
“He said that he would fight for the social workers and help them improve their salaries,” the spokesman said.
“The offer from the Treasury does that, and prolonging this battle is only hurting the 1.5 million people who need social workers’ help.”
The spokesman added that the other demands, such as adjusting the pay scale, which is a state decision, could be met once they return to work.
Despite the minister’s appeal to return to work, hundreds of social workers are expected to gather in Jerusalem Thursday outside the Finance Ministry to show support for the struggle, which many say is a battle for social rights and for strengthening a welfare state. Social workers outside of Jerusalem have arranged to meet at the Redding Power Station parking lot at 8 a.m. and drive together along Route 1 into the capital.
The demonstration begins at 11:30 a.m.