Nurses intensify strike as negotiations falter

Finance Ministry says it will petition Labor Court to order strikers back to work

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

National Nurses Union Chairwoman Ilana Cohen outside the Finance Ministry in February (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
National Nurses Union Chairwoman Ilana Cohen outside the Finance Ministry in February (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Nurses across the country left their posts in protests Tuesday morning, as a labor dispute between the medical workers and the Finance Ministry intensified after nine days of failed talks.

Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday, hospital departments were left with only skeleton crews to save lives and distribute medication.

The chairwoman of the National Nurses Union on Monday blamed the Finance Ministry for the cessation of negotiations between the protesting nurses and the government.

Ilana Cohen said that the Finance Ministry’s wage and budget directors did not show up to a meeting scheduled Monday afternoon between the two sides and threatened that if the nurses don’t see a Treasury compromise, they will “abandon the hospitals.”

“While the nurses are crushed beneath the burden [of work], and the lives of those who are ill are at risk because of the desperate shortage [of nurses], the Finance Ministry continues to procrastinate and not negotiate continuously and intensively as the national emergency dictates,” Maariv quoted her saying.

It was “an intolerable, irresponsible” act by the ministry which, she told Israel Radio, is testament to the Finance Ministry’s disrespect for the nurses.

Cohen called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in the matter.

New wage agreements and help with the severe manpower deficit experienced by the nursing trade in Israel are at the core of nurses’ demands. According to 2011 OECD statistics, Israel has one of the lowest proportions of professional nurses among developed countries, at 4.14 per 1,000 people.

The Finance Ministry said Monday evening it would petition the Labor Court to issue an injunction ordering the nurses to return to work.

Finance Ministry director of budgets Gal Hershkovitz said it is inappropriate for the government to make decisions with long-term fiscal obligations at this point in time. According to Hershkovitz, decisions of this sort should be made after the January 22 elections in the framework of budget discussions four months hence.

He added that the Finance Ministry presented the most specific offers to the nurses that it could at this juncture, and that the ministry is weighing the option of asking the Labor Court for an injunction against the Nurses Union to force them to end their strike.

Sources at the Finance Ministry were quoted on Israel Radio saying that the nurses’ demands were excessive.

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