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The head of the Histadrut labor federation began discussions yesterday on bringing the social workers' strike to an end, meeting with Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen and the workers representatives. The 10-day strike has involved some 10,000 social workers around the country.

Negotiations at Histadrut chair Ofer Eini's office centered around the main remaining disagreement between the parties: The need for a mechanism ensuring that funds transferred by the state to privatized non-profits running social services will be used to raise the workers' salaries, not the salaries of senior executives.

The state has so far opposed establishing such a mechanism, arguing that the non-profit organizations are not a part of the public sector.

The sides have already agreed on the pay raise itself, which will mean social workers employed by non-profits will receive the same salary as social workers with five years of experience - or between NIS 5,500 and 6,000 a month.

The Histadrut said yesterday that the question of pay increases for the rest of the social workers is yet to be finalized, but that it will probably amount to 24 to 25 percent - significantly higher than the originally designated pay raise for all public servants, 7.25 percent over four years.

It was also agreed that the wage increase will be differential, with social workers employed by the Defense Ministry or National Insurance Institute and already earning higher pay getting a smaller pay hike (on top of the original raise for public servants ), while those currently getting paid less will receive a higher rise.

Also in attendance at yesterday's talks were the treasury's wages director, Ilan Levin; the head of the Histadrut's trade union division, Avi Nissenkorn; social workers' union chairman Itzhak Peri; and the Union of Local Authorities head of salaries, Danny Ben-Haim. The Histadrut said yesterday that any last-minute difficulties will be discussed directly by Eini and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

If an agreement is reached, the municipal strike planned for today by the local authorities will be called off. While announcing the intention to strike, the chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, Shlomo Buhbut, said "we are the greatest employer of social workers, who like us cherish their work with the elderly, the homeless, children at risk and people with disabilities."

He called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "become aware of the financial distress of the social workers and to intervene immediately if the conflict is not resolved."

A third of the Union of Local Authorities, 36 local authorities, declined to participate in the strike so as not to cause distress to the residents. They noted that the negotiations with social workers appear to be near completion, and said they saw no point in going on strike at this stage.