The Secondary School Teachers Organization's (SSTO) talks with the finance and education ministries were suspended yesterday as the strike at the country's junior high and high schools enters its 12th day today.

"We have separated from the treasury for a long time because once again they came to the negotiating meeting and rejected all of our proposals," SSTO Chairman Ran Erez said.

"According to them, even if we undertake to work an additional three hours in the classrooms we will not get a 15-percent wage increase for all teachers. The Finance Ministry is trying to wear us out. In the past year we conducted over 50 meetings and got nowhere. There's a limit to our patience."

Treasury and Education Ministry officials rejected Erez's claims. According to sources at both ministries, for some "unknown reason" Erez decided to "bust up" the deliberations and the parties were forced to start from the beginning.

In a joint announcement, the ministries stated that "the teachers' union reversed itself and asked for an immediate wage hike with no increase in labor.

Erez chose to bring down the education system and there is nothing about his conduct that serves the teachers and the students. The [SSTO] is motivated by alien considerations and is attempting to block the educational reforms that were signed by the National Teachers Union."

The Finance Ministry, meanwhile, announced yesterday that it had approved 400 early-retirement packages for teachers, to be divided equally between teachers in the two unions.

The National Labor Court rejected an appeal by the SSTO against the arbitration agreement over compensation for salary erosion in past years.