The Histadrut successfully negotiated on behalf of Israel’s National Union of Nursing Caregivers, reaching its first collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Nursing Service Providers in Israel, an employers’ organization representing nursing companies. “We made history,” union leader Ella Smilansky told Davar. “We have fought for this agreement for three years. We still have work to do, but thankfully, for the first time ever, caregivers have a collective bargaining agreement.”

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The agreement, signed between Yossi Barbie, chair of the Union of Security Workers, Cleaners and Nurses, and Doron Raz, chair of the Association of Nursing Service Providers in Israel, stipulates for the first time additional pay beyond the minimum wage, which will increase according to the employee's seniority. According to Barbie, this is a significant victory, since the industry is mostly made up of older female workers, and the average seniority is seven to eight years.

The agreement will also take into account the unique nature of the caregiving profession. “As part of the agreement, we made a very significant correction to the distortion in the caregivers’ employment structure,” Barbie told Davar.

“Most of them work for three to four patients and need to commute between them, usually on foot or by public transport. For the first time, an employee who is required to move between patients during the working day will receive payment equal to a quarter of an hour of work for each such transition.”

Chair of the Union of Security Workers, Yossi Barbie: "An employee who is required to switch between patients during the working day will receive a wage equal to a quarter of an hour of work for each such transfer." (Photo: Private album)

The agreement also includes stipulations for increasing the workers’ pension provisions, professional training, bonuses, and the establishment of funds for staff activities. Additionally, the agreement includes a mechanism for preventing arbitrary dismissals of workers. This mechanism includes establishing a committee with representation for the employer and the Histadrut, as well as a monitoring committee that will include a Histadrut representative and a representative of the employer’s organization.

Our Work is Not Yet Finished

“This is a very exciting moment for us as a union, one which we worked very hard on with the significant cooperation of the employers’ organization,” Barbie said.

But he was clear that the work is not yet finished. Barbie explained that the success of the agreement depends on Economy Minister Orna Barbivai signing an expansion order, which would enforce the terms of the agreement on nursing companies not represented by the Association of Nursing Service Providers in Israel. Crucially, this would allow the agreement to influence Bituach Leumi, Israel’s National Insurance Institute. Bituach Leumi is responsible for implementing the Nursing Care Law, which grants home care benefits to elderly Israelis in need of care.

If the expansion order is signed soon, it will make it possible to include the terms of the agreement in the framework of the new tender that Bituach Leumi is expected to publish in the coming months for the provision of nursing services under the Nursing Care Law. The parties have already begun discussions with Bituach Leumi.

Barbie expressed appreciation for the Economy Minister’s contribution to the negotiations so far. “Minister Barbivai is a woman very much aware of these social issues, and I believe she will take to heart the 145,000 nursing workers in Israel who do this holy work and care for 280,000 elderly people,” Barbie said.

“Although the journey isn’t over, we feel that we have reached a very important stage,” Smadar Ben Ezra Parchi, one of the leaders of the National Union of Nursing Caregivers, told Davar.

“Before this agreement was signed, I didn’t sleep at night. We traveled a very long way to get here.”

Parchi has been a nurse for nine years. She described her profession as a demanding one that constantly requires opening up your heart. “We come to the patients, do their shopping and errands, bring medicine, sometimes accompany them to the doctors, cook, clean the house, help with a shower, and just keep them company.”

She said of her daily routine: “It’s thinking of the patient as your grandparent or your parent. It’s working with people with changing needs, having a very deep sense of purpose. You care about a person’s well-being in the most basic sense. And many caregivers continue to work even at a relatively older age because it's important to them, they love the work and their patients.”

 

To Achieve Something You Need a Union

Smilansky recounted the founding of the organization more than three years ago, after Bituach Leumi sought to promote a unilateral move that would infringe on the caregivers’ rights as well as their ability to serve their patients.

“They asked us to clock in from the patient’s home phone. But our work day often starts outside the patient’s home shopping for them, or bringing them something from the pharmacy. This move meant that our pay would be hurt — or that we had to spend our patients’ precious service time getting to their home first and only then going out and performing different tasks for them,” Smilansky said.

Ella Smilansky. “We’ve made history” (Photo: Yonatan Bloom)

Together with her friends, she set up Facebook groups for caregivers, and also began contacting members of the Knesset to try to fight the move.

“We actually addressed all the Knesset members at the time, but the only one who answered us was MK Tali Ploskov [then a member of the center-right Kulanu party,] who herself used to work as a nurse in a nursing home. She brought us to a debate at the Knesset plenum, after which she told us that in our country to achieve something — we need a union. She is the one who actually connected us to the Histadrut.”

“When these workers approached us, we came to realize that they are doing sacred work and are not being rewarded properly,” Barbie said. “As a result, the chair of the Histadrut decided to help this group and instructed us to incorporate them into the Histadrut and to establish a union. He clarified that workers that join the Histadrut through this union will be entitled to all the Histadrut services without paying membership fees — until a collective agreement is signed and it enters into force.”

According to Barbie, the Trade Union Division of the Histadrut helped to establish the union’s central committee and action committee, which subsequently, and successfully, led the fight against the changed time clock system. But the workers were not satisfied with just this victory. “The workers said they wanted more, they wanted rights — protection from arbitrary dismissal, professional training and improved economic conditions. The different companies employing the nurses were not enthusiastic at first, but over time they realized that, by cooperating with us, they can grow the industry, which has been suffering from an image problem and a lack of personnel — problems that emerged due to unsatisfactory working conditions,” Barbie said.

To Smilansky and others from the union, the Histadrut has been a significant partner in growing the cause. “Throughout the whole journey, we have felt the comprehensive support of the Histadrut,” Smilansky said. “We worked hard and managed to reach many thousands of caregivers who joined us during the campaign. Today we have two large Facebook groups active in Hebrew and Arabic, WhatsApp groups by region, and in almost every city there is also a central activist who can help with labor-related issues.”

“Now more than ever, as the agreement has been signed, it’s important for us to call on all nursing caregivers to join us and the Histadrut, because the larger we are, the more we can continue to improve our conditions and our profession in the future,” Parchi said. “I believe that by working together and uniting, we will see the expansion order signed in the near future.”