Amid COVID19 Crisis, Lab Workers to Launch Strike Starting Aug. 30

Medical lab workers announced on Sunday, August 16, that they will begin an open-ended strike in two weeks after negotiations between the workers and the Finance Ministry “blew up.” “Sadly the government ministries disparage us and drag their feet. No one in Israel’s government is in a hurry to regulate the activities of public laboratories and the conditions of our employment,” said Esther Admon, Chairwoman of the Biochemical Microbiologists’ and Lab Workers Union. “In this situation, we have no choice but to launch a general strike.”

Medical lab workers demonstrated at Assaf Harofeh hospital last Thursday, August 13. The sign held in the center reads: "We're the little dwarfs behind the scenes."

Medical lab workers demonstrated at Assaf Harofeh hospital last Thursday, August 13. The sign held in the center reads: “We’re the little dwarfs behind the scenes.” (Photo: Biochemical Microbiologists’ and Lab Workers Union)

Admon stressed that the Finance and Health Ministries have been “playing ping-pong” with the lab workers for over five years. The strike would be the first strike by lab workers since 2018. “One would have expected the coronavirus to end this silly saga and clarify the importance of the stability of the laboratory system, but even the brightest warning lights do not move anyone, from the Prime Minister through the Finance and Health Ministries,” said Admon.

Admon warned of a crisis: privatization of laboratories, an exodus of veteran workers and the inability to recruit young workers. The hourly wage for the job is less than 40 shekels an hour, for people with at least a bachelor’s degree. Admon explains that she met with Yaakov Litzman, former Minister of Health, in 2016, after a critical report exposing issues in the system was published. Since then, no plan has been advanced to solve this problem, which threatens to close down the labs, nor has Admon heard from representatives of the ministry.

“This is the responsibility of the Minister of Health, but everything looks like some backroom deal in a corner store,” Admon said. “We are talking about the management of an epidemic that caught the healthcare system unprepared. It is the responsibility of the Health Minister to solve the problem of the laboratories, and he just doesn’t deal with the deeper issues.”

“The struggle of the laboratory workers is absolutely justified and the neoliberal and far-right government should internalize that this is not an idle threat and if the situation does not change, within two weeks it will be left without laboratory tests at all,” said the Hadash faction at the Histadrut Labor Federation.

Since the coronavirus crisis has started, health labor unions have been forced to take central roles in its management. Even under normal circumstances unions have no say on policy and professional issues but, in the absence of real leadership, they must be the last line of defense keeping the system from economic starvation and even collapse. The medical doctors currently have two ongoing labor disputes with the government, including issues related to of a lack of staff. In July, to end the a strike by the country’s, the Ministers of Health and Finance authorized a temporary addition of 2,000 nurses, and established a joint team with the nurses’ representatives to discuss long-term additions.