Nurses Launch Nationwide Strike over Worsening Labor Conditions

The Tel Aviv Labor Court ordered nurses to end their two-day strike on Wednesday, July 24, and return to work while carrying on their negotiations with the Health Ministry to reduce their workload. However, the court decision does allow the nurses to continue with a partial strike by, for example, refusing to perform non-essential tests or computerize information.

Striking nurses demonstrate in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 23. "Nurses are not forced laborers."

Striking nurses demonstrate in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 23. The sign held up at the right reads: “Nurses are not forced laborers.” (Photo: Nurses Union)

Nurses went on strike across Israel on Tuesday, July 23, after negotiations between the Histadrut’s Nurses Union and the Health Ministry broke down the night before. The nurses are protesting what they say are poor working conditions, heavy caseloads amidst a shortage in nurses and the resulting low standards of patient care.

The majority of nursing staff were instructed by their union to walk out at 7 am on Tuesday morning after last-minute negotiations held Monday evening between representatives of the union and the Health Ministry failed. Negotiations between the union and the government, which began in May, concern four major issues: reducing nurse workloads, increasing staff, worsening employment conditions, and declining salaries.

“Nurses in Israel are not forced laborers,” the union spokesperson announced in a statement released on Tuesday. “They will no longer lend a hand to work beyond what is required of them, performing tasks, procedures and examinations, without the addition of staff and an appropriate increase in wages… The health and finance ministries are directly responsible for the intolerable queues in providing health care to the public. Their policies place heavy burdens on the nurses and undermine their ability to provide safe and appropriate treatment to patients.”

The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and Hadash backed the nurses’ decision to strike, hailing it as a fight for the lives of all citizens and residents of Israel. The party’s Central Committee stated: “The workload faced by the nurses, the disregard for their working conditions and their wages constitutes a cheapening of human life… Far-right and neo-liberal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also health minister, bears personal and ministerial responsibility for the collapsing public health system.”

A recent report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel said that Israel’s public health system has been subject to systemic failures in planning, low budgeting and regulation by the far-right government, resulting in an acute shortage of beds, inefficiencies and gaps in accessibility of treatment.

The report found that the country lags behind others among the 36-member states belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), both in the number of hospital beds, 2.2, per 1,000 persons in the population, compared with an average of 3.6 for the other OECD members, as well as shorter hospital stays and particularly high occupancy rates. While there is a general trend of fewer hospital beds in most capitalist countries, the decline is especially sharp in Israel — a 22% decline versus an average OECD reduction of 15% between 2002 and 2017.