JERUSALEM — Israeli nurses abandoned their demand for a pay increase and returned to work Thursday, ending a 19-day strike in exchange for talks with Health Ministry officials on improving working conditions in hospitals.
"Although we will not get higher salaries, we can still discuss certain conditions such as shorter days, less taxes and increased bonuses," said Dalia Ohana of the Nurses' National Council.
She said that while nurses agreed to abandon their fight for pay increases in the face of tough government opposition, they would be satisfied with better conditions.
Ohana said her council and the Health Ministry had agreed to hold six weeks of talks, starting Thursday, on improved conditions.
Shorter Work Day Sought
"We've asked that the work day be shortened from eight to six hours, and that we get extra overtime pay for extra hours worked," she said.
Ohana warned that strike action could be resumed if negotiations broke down.
"If in six weeks we are not successful, we'll think about other steps," she said.
Israel's estimated 11,000 hospital nurses walked off the job June 21, forcing hospitals to send thousands of patients home.
The nurses were demanding a 100% pay increase and better working conditions. Nurses earn a basic monthly salary of $225 to $365, depending on experience.
The head nurse in the neurosurgery ward at one of the nation's leading hospitals said she felt let down by her representatives, the public and Israel's Parliament, the Knesset.
"They didn't pay attention to us," said Chasia Amir of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital. "(The) feeling is very bad among nurses. It was an unfair fight."
The nurses' decision to back down on the pay issue is "a victory for the government in preserving the economic (austerity) program," said Shmuel Algrabli, a spokesman for the Health Ministry.