Some 400 subcontracted teachers employed in a special program for troubled students are on strike today over their "exploitative" work conditions, in the largest protest action of its kind to date.

The strike will affect 1,000 pupils who dropped out of other high-school frameworks. This is the sixth strike undertaken since teachers in this program declared a work dispute, in protest against what they depict as their employment "by a contractor, under exploitative conditions devoid of work security and benefits."

Striking teachers will hold public discussions and protest actions at 40 educational facilities today, and will demonstrate near the home of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

The teachers are calling on the education minister to intervene in their dispute with the Israel Community Center Association, the winner of a concession contract awarded by the Education Ministry. The teachers want Sa'ar to adjust their work terms so that they are comparable to those of teachers employed directly by the ministry.

An agreement over subcontracted workers' conditions signed on Sunday between the Histadrut labor federation and the treasury does not apply to some 10,000 teachers employed by private contractors in Israel.

According to Oren Shlomo, a teacher in the program for troubled students, "the recent national strike and the agreement signed as a result of it prove that teachers must continue to unite and fight for improvements in their employment terms guaranteed by a collective agreement.

"We will escalate our protest actions as needed and until our working terms are changed," he added. "That there are teachers who have worked for dozens of years in the educational system and yet lack work benefits and security is intolerable. This is a disgrace and it mars the education system and its head."

Teacher representatives are expected to meet this morning with Education Ministry Director General Dalit Stauber.

An Education Ministry official said last night that these teachers cannot be employed directly by the ministry, owing to "the lack of budgetary funds provided by the Finance Ministry, and the fact that no job slots have been allocated for them."

But, the official added, there is a possibility that the terms of the concession will be adjusted in line with some of the teachers' demands, once the Community Center Association's franchise arrangement ends this year.

The Finance Ministry said: "The state supplies these services via a public, nongovernmental and nonprofit element."

"The fact that the Education Ministry and its head have not intervened up to now in this matter is simply infuriating," Einat Avrahami, a teacher from Tel Aviv said last night. "It's as though this program were conducted on another planet, rather than its being a vital part of the public education system. The Education Ministry privatized this program, and it cannot abandon its responsibility toward the teachers and youths who take part in it."

The program in question serves some 7,800 youths who have dropped out of mainstream high school programs. They study at 160 educational facilities around the country.

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