Agreement to End Doctors' Strike Close - But Not Quite Finished

The government and doctors seemed closer than ever to an agreement Thursday morning, but the deal was not done, doctors said,

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David Lev,

Doctors protest outside of the Knesset
Doctors protest outside of the Knesset
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The government and doctors seemed closer than ever to an agreement Thursday morning, but the deal was not done, said Dr. Leonid Idelman, head of the Doctors' Union (Histadrut Harefu'it). Meanwhile, Idelman said that he had ended his week-long hunger strike, but urged doctors to continue their protests until a final deal was signed.

On Thursday, heads of the union announced that significant progress had been made in the negotiations, with the government agreeing to half their demands – in the addition of 1,000 new positions in hospitals around the country. Negotiations are still ongoing for salary increases, but Idelman said that the partial progress was enough to convince him to begin eating again. So far, union officials said, the government has agreed to increase doctors' salaries by 20%; the doctors had been demanding a 50% increase.

One issued that the doctors will not agree to under any conditions, said Dr. Zvika Klein, chairman of the doctors' committee at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, is the government demand that doctors check in and out at the beginning and end of their shift using a time clock, or other device (such as a cellphone app). The government has been seeking a means of ensuring that they are paying doctors only for time spent on the job in exchange for the salary increases, and not for time they spend teaching or in private practice.

On Wednesday it had been reported that doctors had agreed to use a cellphone app to record their hours, but Klein said that this was not the case. “This demand is a red line which doctors cannot cross, as it shows a complete lack of trust and faith” on the part of the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, specialists, who have their own union but are not considered a party to the current work dispute, threatened to take action if the agreement as it stands is approved. At an emergency meeting Wednesday night, the specialists said they would either declare their own strike, or resign their jobs en masse. “We will not accept less than NIS 50 an hour,” one specialist was quoted as saying. “The changes being offered are merely cosmetic. We believe that Dr. Idelman agreed to the current offers because he hasn't eaten for a week, and he is tired and hungry. He wants to make a deal, but we will not agree to anything that does not satisfy our demands.”