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As the negotiations between the striking high school teachers and the government hit a dead end, only one day after they were renewed following a several-day hiatus, junior university teaching staff launched their own battle for better working conditions.

The high school strike enters its 19th day today, while senior faculty at the country's colleges and universities began striking 11 days ago.

Education and finance ministry officials accused the Secondary School Teachers Association of stiffening its demands and making any headway on negotiations impossible.

For his part, SSTA Chairman Ran Erez declared, "The cat is out of the bag: This government doesn't care about improving the education system."

Despite the gulf between the two sides, they will try again today, with Finance Minister Roni Bar-On joining the discussions.

At the same time, the two ministries are urging the heads of the Union of Local Authorities to move forward on obtaining back-to-work orders for the teachers. ULA officials want negotiations to be exhausted before resorting to the labor courts.

In attendance at yesterday's afternoon parley were Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Erez, treasury wages chief Eli Cohen and ULA Chairman Adi Eldar, who was appointed to arbitrate the crisis.

In contrast to Monday's hours-long meeting, yesterday's session ended after only two hours. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the finance and education ministries said, "The union stiffened its position and did not respond to an offer to conduct separate negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement, which would lead to a resumption of studies, and to postpone discussions on the implementation of reforms in secondary education."

TAs and adjuncts join in

Teaching assistants and adjunct faculty members, who receive low pay and no or partial social benefits, yesterday held meetings instead of classes at Ben-Gurion, Bar-Ilan, Tel Aviv, and Haifa universities. The junior faculty at the latter two institutions also decided to declare a labor dispute.

"We have a lot of power because over the past several years, more and more of the teaching has been by junior faculty, because they are cheaper," Adjunct Faculty Association Chairman Sion Koren said yesterday.

Ohad Karni, chairman of Tel Aviv University's junior faculty union, says adjunct and junior teaching staff now account for 40 percent of all university instruction and 80 percent of instruction in the nation's colleges.

Special emphasis is being placed on organizing adjunct teachers, who are unionized only at the universities of Haifa and Tel Aviv.

"The university administrations are sending the message that they do not look kindly on the attempt to organize the adjunct faculty. The administrations have become accustomed to imposing their authority over them, and when the demands started coming, the administrations made it clear that they could be replaced easily. Once they're organized, that won't be possible," Koren said.