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Organizations representing 5,000 senior faculty members at Israeli universities declared a labor dispute yesterday claiming the Finance Ministry is ignoring their demand to renegotiate their wage pact, which expired more than a year ago.

The declaration of the work dispute is a prerequisite to a strike, which the law authorizes two weeks later. That would present the possibility of a faculty strike just prior to the start of second semester classes.

The Finance Ministry called the declaration of a labor dispute "premature and unnecessary." The ministry said a framework agreement was just signed last week with the Histadrut labor federation and that it is regular practice following such an arrangement to then pursue agreements with groups beyond the scope of the Histadrut pact, such as university faculty and physicians.

The chairman of the coordinating committee for the senior faculty groups, Nir Shaviv, said Finance Ministry officials had not proposed anything concrete in recent weeks.

The faculty members' main demand is a long-term agreement, he said, adding they were not demanding a 10 or 20 percent wage increase, but wanted to head off salary erosion that he said followed prior wage pacts.

The labor dispute was declared to show that the group wants more concrete negotiations, he said, also contending that it was not proper to work without a wage pact.

The prior wage agreement, which expired in January of 2010, was reached following the last strike by senior faculty in October 2007, a strike that lasted 90 days.

"Over the past two months, intensive to-the-point negotiations have been conducted in cooperation with the Finance Ministry in an effort to reach agreement," the planning and budgeting committee of the Council on Higher Education said. "The declaration of a wage dispute is not appropriate and we regret it."

The chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, Itzik Shmueli, said his group was following developments with concern and called on the parties involved to resume negotiations. He said the battle should not be waged at the students' expense.