‘How can physicians be allowed to strike?’ ‘What should people do if they need to see a physician during a strike?’ ‘Physicians are like soldiers and policemen; they cannot be allowed to strike.’
Since the current work dispute between the physicians and the Ministry of Finance and employers began, remarks of this kind have been heard on more than one occasion in the public debate. The remarks were also recently made in the context of the struggle of State-employed attorneys and the struggle of social workers, who were criticized as seemingly disrupting an essential public service. Sometimes these statements are motivated by interests, such as the interest of employers to thwart the physicians’ strike. However, sometimes they are the result of the genuine feelings of ordinary citizens, who are concerned for their health when physicians strike.
The criticism of the right of physicians to strike largely reflects a public outlook that recognizes the unique status of physicians in society and in the work market. This outlook is a continuous part of the discussion on the legitimacy of the physicians’ struggle and the measures adopted in its pursuit. In any case, it is not possible to ignore the legitimate and serious questions that arise in public debate with regard to the right of physicians to strike as a part of the struggle over the image of the health service and its conditions.
This position paper seeks to respond to these questions and to address the criticism leveled at physicians for the use that they make of the ‘ultimate weapon’ — strikes. The paper considers the physicians’ strike in a broader context of strikes by essential workers and discusses its social and legal legitimacy and its various justifications. The paper follows the following outline:
The first chapter sets out the legal background for the existence of the right to strike in Israel. After a review of the provisions of Israeli law with regard to the right to strike and the restriction thereof, the chapter focuses on the law applicable to services and workers that are defined as ‘essential’ and on the repercussions that this has on physicians’ strikes. The second chapter describes previous physicians’ strikes that occurred in Israel between the years 1976 and 2000, the demands made in them and the achievements that they attained. The third chapter reviews physicians’ strikes from an international viewpoint, including the legal position that prevails around the world with regard to physicians’ strikes, examples of strikes that occurred in recent years in several countries, and cases where physicians around the world went on strike for the sake of patients and to improve the health service. The fourth chapter addresses the moral dilemmas that arise as a result of physicians’ strikes, with a focus on ethical and religious aspects. Finally, the fifth chapter proposes a summary and conclusions with regard to recognition of the right of physicians to strike.