Nurses to strike Monday over staff shortages after treasury talks break down
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Nurses to strike Monday over staff shortages after treasury talks break down

With 813 nurses quarantined, union says personnel crisis was bad even before the pandemic; social workers continue labor dispute with protests across the country

Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Health Ministry in Jerusalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Health Ministry in Jerusalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After talks with the treasury ended Sunday with no agreement, nurses were set to go on strike Monday over staff shortages that they say have made it impossible to continue their work.

Union heads and the director-general of the Finance Ministry, Keren Terner Eyal, did not come to any conclusions at the Sunday meeting, meaning that nurses will walk out.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that there were 813 nurses in quarantine, with the Ynet news site reporting that there had been no additional staffing added even as hospitals open more coronavirus wards.

“We explained the situation to the director general of the Finance Ministry. It should be understood that the shortage of nurses did not start with the coronavirus [pandemic]. The responsibility is the treasury’s and they had time to solve this. We are on strike tomorrow,” National Nurses Union head Ilana Cohen told the Kan public broadcaster.

Ilana Cohen, chair of the National Nurses Union in Israel, arrives for a meeting at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on August 7, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The National Nurses Union declared a labor dispute last month, stating that nurses’ heavy workload damaged their ability to provide proper care to their patients.

Last week Cohen wrote to Finance Minister Israel Katz, saying that “the nurses are collapsing.”

“It is no longer possible [to continue]. The system is down, period,” she declared. “What we need at the moment is manpower.”

She further charged that patients and nurses had been “abandoned” and that the health system was “drying up.”

She complained that hospitals had purchased ventilators without providing additional training, had not increased staffing numbers to a level appropriate to the new circumstances, “and opened coronavirus wards without adding personnel.”

There was a shortfall of hundreds or as much as a thousand staffers, Sheba Medical Center Deputy Director Prof. Arnon Afek told Ynet last week. “There is a great shortage in the number of nurses compared to the number of beds we operate within hospitals.”

Last July, nurses across Israel went on strike after negotiations between the National Nurses Union and the Health Ministry broke down. The nurses were protesting what they said were poor working conditions, heavy caseloads and low standards of care.

Israeli social workers protest their working conditions and violence against them in Tel Aviv on July 19, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Also on Sunday, thousands of social workers demonstrated outside government offices in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.

Earlier this month, the social workers’ union initiated a general strike after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

Additionally, the social workers hung 300 files on the fence of the Prime Minister’s Office to illustrate the number of cases that each worker is required to handle.

Israeli social workers protest their working conditions and violence against them outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are being attacked with violence and cruelty,” the Walla news site quoted Israel Union of Social Workers chief Inbal Hermoni as saying at the start of the strike, lamenting her colleagues’ “shameful salaries” and “unreasonable burden.”

The “entire system has been neglected, dried up and abandoned,” she continued, adding that “finance officials want to break social services and shut them down” and that there had been “no choice” but to go on strike.

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