Social workers ink deal with Finance Ministry, ending strike after 17 days

Social workers ink deal with Finance Ministry, ending strike after 17 days

Agreement provides NIS 200m for raises and funding for a protection program, after years of complaints of low pay, manpower shortages and violence

Social workers protest their working conditions, during the COID-19 crisis, in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2020. Sign reads 'Disgrace.' (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Social workers protest their working conditions, during the COID-19 crisis, in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2020. Sign reads 'Disgrace.' (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Social workers ended a 17-day strike on Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the Finance Ministry for higher salaries and funding to provide protection for workers.

The Israel Union of Social Workers accepted a government offer that includes an allocation of NIS 200 million ($58 million) for raises starting next summer, followed by a second tranche at a later date when salary agreements are negotiated, as well as a budget of NIS 70 million ($20 million) for protective programs. In addition, all workers will get a 2021 bonus of NIS 9,000-11,000 ($2,630-$3,217).

Union chair Inbal Hermoni celebrated the agreement in a notification to members declaring, “We won!”

“A tremendous struggle is coming to an end today with our tremendous victory,” she wrote.

Finance Minister Israel Katz also welcomed the development, tweeting: “As I assured, we will not leave anyone behind. We agreed on historic steps that will change the status of the [social] workers and will enable them to continue their dedicated work under conditions befitting the task they have taken upon themselves.”

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Congratulations also came from Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, who tweeted that the social workers’ demands were justified.

“Faced with the difficult social challenges, which have only intensified during the coronavirus [outbreak], they are our outstanding, elite unit; we are all committed to nurturing it and giving it full support in working conditions and protection.”

Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz also expressed support, tweeting “those who work with underprivileged populations deserve decent wages and decent working conditions.”

The deal is expected to be brought before the cabinet for approval as early as next Sunday. It came following intense negotiations between social workers and treasury officials that continued late into the night Tuesday.

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.

Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David, left, meets with Inbal Hermoni, Chair of the Israel Union of Social Workers at the Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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.

Bar-David said, “We have taken a significant step to address the injustice but the real challenge is still ahead of us. The new agreement helps ensure the rights of a dedicated working community that works day and night to reach out to all people in need.”

During the open-ended labor strike by social workers 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)

On Tuesday, the social workers’ union rejected an initial proposal by the Finance Ministry that 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.

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 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 salaries.”

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