Israeli Academic Year to Open With Disruptions as Junior Faculty Strikes

Junior faculty organizations decide to hold the one-day strike following failure of negotiations.

Disruptions are expected on Sunday as the academic year begins at universities and colleges throughout Israel. Junior faculty organizations have decided to stage a one-day strike to protest at their working conditions, so only classes held by senior staff will proceed as planned. At Tel Aviv University, the students union is planning a walkout between 12 and 2 P.M. in support of the junior academic staff and as part of Israel's latest social protests.

The junior faculty organizations decided Friday to hold the one-day strike following the failure of negotiations with the Council of University Presidents and the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee. "The meeting was very disappointing," said Daniel Mishori, chief negotiator on behalf of the junior staff. Classes taught by senior faculty will begin at all universities except Ben-Gurion, which is also impacted by Saturday's rocket barrage.

Tel Aviv University campus 474 Tali Meir
Tali Meir

"The position of the heads of the universities was impractical, to the point that they claimed there was no need to hold negotiations at all," Mishori said. "We certainly didn't receive any practical offers, and I'm doubtful about the future."

Similar claims were made by the heads of the universities. "We weren't surprised by their decision to stage a strike," an organization spokesperson said. "The junior staff announced the strike a few weeks ago, and were determined to strike throughout the negotiations, instead of trying to find a solution."

However, a source in the Council for Higher Education claimed the negotiations were actually held in good spirit, and believed the sides could reach an agreement within days. The negotiations are set to continue Tuesday and Thursday. Junior staff representatives warned that if no progress was made, further, more radical, action would take place next week.

The junior faculty organizations demand the end to employment "in the form of contract workers," since these conditions provide no employment security. They also demand the allotment of NIS 60 million to improve the terms of employment and promotion possibilities. The Council of University Presidents claims "the comparison with contract workers is ridiculous. Only two years ago, an agreement was signed dealing with their social benefits, and in which they received significant pay raises." Mishori claimed that this agreement "had expired."

The junior staff organizations represent 10,920 academics, who teach about half of all university classes. The organizations comprise teaching assistants, research assistants, instructors, adjunct lecturers, fellow teachers, language teachers and teachers of pre-academic schools. The orgs are also protesting the fact that the reform report on higher education - led by Planning and Budgeting Committee chairman Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg - completely ignored the junior academic staff, which does most of the actual teaching.

The junior staffs' position was strengthened over the weekend when the Forum for the Protection of Public Education sent Prof. Trajtenberg a petition signed by 1,440 teachers, students, academics and civilians, calling for an end to "the harmful form of employment of 'non-staff teachers' and 'contract teachers.'"

Ben-Gurion University's Iris Agmon claimed "this form of employment also harms the future of the senior staff, which is getting older, without seeing any signs of accepting new faces." Agmon added that the harm is being felt in various fields of studies, and that a copy of the petition was also presented to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

The past 15 years have seen a huge increase in the employment of non-staff teachers, who now comprise half the workforce within universities. This form of employment was originally aimed at allowing nonacademic professionals to lend practical assistance in various academic fields, but became widespread due to recurring budget cuts. Nowadays, thousands of academics are employed in part-time positions, in place of tenured staff taking part in research and teaching.