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The Social Workers' Union yesterday rejected the compromise wage agreement worked out between the Histadrut labor federation and the Finance Ministry, sending the parties back to the bargaining table and preventing an end to the strike, now in its third week. The union's negotiating team will meet this morning to formulate guidelines for future talks.

The central committee of the union voted against the contract offer 14 to 13. For the past week hundreds of social workers have been holding daily demonstrations and using Facebook to protest and rally support against the terms being negotiated by representatives of the union umbrella organization and the Finance Ministry.

For hours yesterday the committee sat inside Histadrut headquarters on Tel Aviv's Arlosoroff Street, poring over the fine print of the proposal, while hundreds of social workers demonstrated outside. In the late afternoon Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini was called in to explain various clauses of the contract, and presumably also to persuade the committee members to approve it.

"We are all aware of the heavy responsibility placed on our shoulders. We knew it wouldn't be an easy decision, but on the other hand it was obvious that we couldn't settle for the present agreement because we deserve more," said Michal Gomel, a central committee member who attended the sessions.

"The problematic and painful point for us is that it did not fix a new salary schedule with promotion awards, so even if they give us a raise now we still won't have a way to move up and improve our wages," Gomel said.

Histadrut officials said yesterday they respected the union's decision. "I told the members at today's meeting that I got the best deal possible for them, but nevertheless I respect the union's democratic decision," Eini said after the vote.

The offer the union rejected included a monthly pay raise of NIS 1,100, introduced in four stages over a period of three years and representing a salary increase of 25 percent on average, as well as a one-time NIS 2,000 bonus that is part of the comprehensive wage agreement for all state employees signed in November.

In addition, local authorities were supposed to hire a total of 50 additional social workers, and the work week of full-time social workers was to increase from 39 to 40.5 hours.

Social workers employed by nonprofit organizations in the wake of the privatization of government services were to be guaranteed a monthly salary of no less than NIS 6,000. To ensure that state funds allocated to these NGOs for the purposes of raising salaries are not diverted for other purposes, it was agreed that the state would monitor the organizations via financial reports, unscheduled visits and contractual commitments.