Social workers close in on deal with Finance Ministry after 16-day strike

Social workers close in on deal with Finance Ministry after 16-day strike

Agreement said reached to provide raises and implement a protection program after years of complaints of low pay, long hours, manpower shortages and dangerous working conditions

Israeli social workers protest their working conditions in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli social workers protest their working conditions in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s social workers appeared to have reached a deal with the Finance Ministry late Tuesday evening after several hours of negotiations, following a 16-day open-ended labor strike.

Social workers have long complained of what they describe as an unreasonable workload, with low salaries and the constant danger of violence. Their union made the decision to strike earlier this month after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

According to Hebrew news reports, the Israel Union of Social Workers accepted a government offer which included an allocation of NIS 200 million ($58 million) for pay increases starting next summer, followed by a second tranche of between NIS 100 million and NIS 200 million ($29 million to $58 million) as well as a budget of NIS 70 million ($20 million) for protective programs.

The final details were still being ironed out and the deal could go before the cabinet for approval as early as next Sunday.

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

The deal was struck only hours after Histadrut labor federation leader Arnon Bar-David threatened that, absent a resolution to the labor dispute, additional public sector workers could go on strike.

During the open-ended labor strike there were 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.

One social work student caused an outcry when she posed topless on a statue of a menorah outside the Knesset on Tuesday during large anti-government protests in Jerusalem.

The unnamed woman told Nir Hasson, a reporter from the Haaretz newspaper, that she was a social work student.

“Maybe now if I take off my shirt somebody will care about the social workers, it’s meant to change perceptions,” she said.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin called for her arrest for “desecrating state symbols.”

A topless protester sits on the menorah statue outside the Knesset during demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bar-David’s statement came after the social workers’ union rejected an initial  proposal by the Finance Ministry which included a salary increase of a few hundred shekels per month and a one-year protection program against the violence they face on the job.

According to the Ynet news site, Israel Union of Social Workers chief Inbal Hermoni, dismissed that offer as “a meager salary increase and a protection program that will expire in June 2021.”

On Tuesday morning, demonstrating social workers gathered in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square and then marched down Ibn Gvirol Street, a major thoroughfare in the city.

The protesters were joined by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who called on the government to improve the working conditions of the social workers.

“The finance minister must intervene immediately in the crisis,” he said, according to the Haaretz daily. “The struggle of social workers is a unique struggle — it’s the struggle of the weak, who themselves take care of the weak.”

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

Hermoni said earlier this month there were 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.”

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

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