Protesting working conditions, social workers launch open-ended strike

Union has long complained of unreasonable workload, with low salaries and the constant danger of violence

Israeli social workers protest their working conditions outside the Knesset on June 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli social workers protest their working conditions outside the Knesset on June 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s social workers’ union initiated a general strike on Monday after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

A last-ditch Zoom meeting between representatives of the Israel Union of Social Workers and the Finance Ministry held on Sunday evening failed to avert the threatened work stoppage, which will halt the provision of social services to vulnerable Israelis for the foreseeable future.

Union chairperson Inbal Hermoni said last week that at a previous meeting between the two sides, ministry officials had refused to even consider various proposals made by the social workers’ union and ministry officials made no suggestions of their own.

“We are being attacked with violence and cruelty,” the Walla News site quoted Hermoni as saying last week, lamenting her colleagues’ “shameful salaries” and “unreasonable burden.”

Screen capture from video of Inbal Hermoni, chair of the Union of Social Workers. (YouTube)

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.

During the open-ended labor strike there will be no protection orders issued for children and youths in danger, no meetings of abortion committees, no respondents available to deal with inquiries from the elderly, no tending to domestic violence incidents, no allocation of minors to care homes, and no assessments of convicts or those under arrest.

Social workers have long complained of what they describe as an unreasonable workload, with low salaries and the constant danger of violence.

Ynet reported that last year the union found that 83 percent of social workers experienced violence at work. Thirty percent suffered physical violence and 30% suffered threats to their lives or to the lives of their children.

Hermoni claims there are 1,000 positions open for social workers but that no one wanted those jobs because of “the workload involved, the violence and the low wages.”

Noga Dekelbaum, one of the leaders of the the social work student union, told Walla that she was in favor of the strike and that during their training, student trainees doing fieldwork often “experience the extreme and impossible load of social workers.”

“There are about a thousand unoccupied jobs and the gap is only going to grow and grow. We will not work at any cost,” she said.

Hundreds of social workers demonstrated at dozens of junctions around the country last Thursday. Demonstrations were held in various cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Social workers block the Azrieli Junction in Tel Aviv in protest of their work conditions, July 2, 2020. (Union of Social Workers)

In Tel Aviv, dozens of social workers blocked the key Azrieli Junction in the city for about an hour. There were no reports of arrests at any of the demonstrations.

Efrat, a social worker from Tel Aviv who was identified only by her first name, told the Ynet news site on Thursday that the protests were not just for the social workers, but also for the sake of those who require their services.

“We came here to fight for the country’s social services,” she said. “It is unacceptable that for years budgets are dried up, and we are paid less than minimum wage.

“We are here for every citizen who at any time in their lives needs a social worker who is available and attentive and can attend to them in a manner that they deserve,” Efrat said.

Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli called the social workers protests “undeniably justified,” Walla reported.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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