The Union of Social Workers is threatening to shut down welfare services after Passover, in protest of the lack of progress in signing the new collective agreement improving social workers’ wages and conditions. 

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The chairman of the Social Workers’ Union, Inbal Hermoni, sent a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently announcing the workers’ intention to strike, and demanding that the agreement be signed by the Finance Ministry's Wage Commissioner Kobi Bar-Natan by the holiday.

“With no choice, this week we declare a labor dispute due to the non-signing of the reform agreement and withdrawal from the agreements,” Hermoni wrote. “If the reform agreement is not signed by Passover, after the holiday the social workers will shut down all social services in the country.”

These services include: child probational services, domestic violence services, social services for at-risk children and youth, social services for the courts, social services for the elderly, social services in the mental health departments and general wards of hospitals.

Social workers protest at Cabri junction. Sign in center reads: “Give welfare to welfare.” (Photo courtesy of the Social Workers' Union)

A reform to the wages and employment conditions of social workers was agreed upon after a broad struggle and a 17-day strike of social workers in the summer of 2020, a few months after the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. Following the strike, the workers received a one-off grant, and negotiations began on a comprehensive reform of the wage structure for social workers.

It was agreed that the wage reform would be carried out in two stages, with the first stage, a retroactive wage increase totaling 200 million shekels ($62 million), due to take effect on July 1, 2021. The second stage is due to be implemented in the next public sector framework agreement expected to be signed in 2023.

The union negotiated with the Ministry of Finance for a year on the details of the new wage structure, until the details of the achievement reform were agreed upon in October 2021. The new wage structure includes a 3.5% increase in the basic wage of social workers, the abolition of the “minimum wage supplement” component and incentives for education and professionalism, in a way that ensures job mobility and growth. 

“Nevertheless, to this day, nine months after the reform was supposed to take effect, the payroll department at the Ministry of Finance has not yet signed the agreement,” Hermoni wrote in her letter. “Employees of the payroll department continue to delay signing by withdrawing from the agreements.”

“Social workers continue to leave the public service,” Hermoni continued. “According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there has been a 50% increase in vacancies in the field of social work in the last two years [due to] lack of compensation and adequate pay, and unreasonable burdens which do not allow them to carry out their work properly.”

She added that the recent instability in society, including spikes in violence and the pandemic, have greatly increased the numbers of referrals to this reduced workforce of social workers.

The Minister of Welfare, Meir Cohen, joined the demands that the wage commissioner sign the new wage agreement for social workers. In a letter previously sent, the minister warned of the current labor dispute, which could lead to another strike in the social work system. The minister also demanded the signing of the agreement before Passover eve.

Minister of Welfare Meir Cohen (Photo: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

“Unfortunately, we  are witnessing the outrageous delay of the implementation of the wage agreement that is being formed with the workers in the State of Israel,” wrote Minister Cohen. 

​​“The social workers carry every day, every hour, the treatment of the at-risk populations, patients in hospitals, battered women, people with disabilities, youth at risk and dozens of other core areas related to Israeli society. They locate, care for and inspire hope in millions of people. Correction of their wages is the order of the hour,” he went on. 

“The procrastination regarding wage agreements in the economy must be stopped,” the Histadrut said in a statement. “There is nothing more appropriate than strengthening the status of social workers, a public that is at the forefront of the state's response to the corona crisis and its consequences. It is time to stop dragging our feet in this matter.”

This article was translated from Hebrew by Matt Levy.