Social workers in Israel announce open-ended strike
The Social Workers Union of Israel announced Monday that it was moving ahead with an allout strike, to begin this coming Sunday, after negotiations with the Treasury over a pay increase and better work conditions failed to yield results, newspaper the Jerusalem Post reported.
"We are talking about a justified battle to improve the conditions and pay of those who do the most important work in our society," Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini said in a statement.
Union head Itzhik Perry explained that the social workers had no choice but to go on strike after the Treasury "pushed us into a corner."
The open-ended strike will include more than 10,000 social workers who work in the public sector assisting a wide variety of people, from children and youth at risk to the elderly.
"We are very upset that this could not be resolved without a strike," commented veteran social worker Margarita Slov, who has been working in the field for more than 17 years.
"When I made aliya from the former Soviet Union, I made a conscious decision to study social work because I wanted to help society and become an agent of change," the 45-year-old mother of five told The Jerusalem Post. "But if we do not stand up for our own rights, then how can we stand up for the rights of others? How can we sit before the weaker segments of the population, hear their woes and cries for help, if we ourselves feel there is no justice in society and that the work we do is not appreciated enough?" Slov, who recently trained as a youth welfare officer and has worked in the Karmiel social welfare department for the past five years, said that her base salary was less than NIS 6,000 a month, with additional income support of NIS 260.
"I am as high as I can go in terms of my salary and my position," said the former single mother, who spent several years living below the poverty line despite earning an income, before remarrying.
"Today, I have a partner who earns more than me and can support me, but I will never forget the years I spent as a single mother," recalled Slov. "I asked my boss for permission to take on extra work at night to make up the salary, but he refused, leaving only the black market as a way to make money. I did not want to work illegally, so I was forced to suffer."
Slov added, "We are really fed up with this situation; we have lost our patience."
As part of the social workers' battle, the union created a Facebook page where social workers could air their grievances.
Slov contributed to the online fight by writing, "As social workers, we have a very giving nature. Even as we fight for our own rights, we are also trying to be giving; we did not want to launch this strike in the summer or during the Jewish festivals. We are always worried that we will hurt the people we are supposed to be helping, but if we don't start giving ourselves some respect, then how can we expect others to respect us?" MK Haim Katz (Likud), chairman of the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee, called for an emergency meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the strike and its implications for the wider community. Those invited to speak at the hearing include recently inaugurated Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon.
In a statement released Monday, Kahlon said, "I back up the social workers' demands to improve their salaries and conditions of employment. They stand at the forefront of the social struggle confronting the most difficult hardships. In a country where every fifth family requires social services, it is unfair that social workers do not receive the proper compensation for their work."
He warned that "consequences of a strike could be very severe, and we must make every effort to prevent disabling these services."
A statement from Kahlon's office said he and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz held marathon talks late Monday in an attempt to avoid the strike.