Court Annuls 'Outrageous' Agudat Yisrael Teacher Deal

The Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court last week voided an agreement between the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party and the Education Ministry that would have deprived the party's kindergarten teachers of rights and worsened their conditions.

The court called the agreement, which required that teachers in the party's network of kindergartens accept drastic pay cuts and wage minimums, "outrageous."

The court blasted the Education Ministry, ruling that the agreement it had signed with Agudat Yisrael was contrary to state-education regulations, which oblige education systems, including the ultra-Orthodox kindergarten network, to pay their workers equal wages as those paid in recognized institutions.

Some 11,000 ultra-Orthodox children attend Agudat Yisrael's network, which runs 360 kindergartens nationwide and employs more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of kindergarten teachers. It is state funded.

A few years ago, when the network's deficits reached some NIS 120 million, it signed a recovery agreement with the Education Ministry.

The agreement revoked all pay benefits deriving from rank and seniority that the teachers had accumulated for many years and stipulated they would be paid minimum wage. It also required all the employees to agree to the new terms.

In December 2008 some 130 kindergarten teachers who refused to accept the terms were warned they would be dismissed. A number of teachers petitioned the labor court.

In previous hearings the Education Ministry said it had planned to change the state-education regulations and apply them to the ultra-Orthodox network, to enable employing the kindergarten teachers for minimum wage, but couldn't do so because since signing the agreement, the ministry was operating in a "transition government."

Judge Ariella Gilzer-Kats wrote that no transition government was in power at the time the agreement had been signed. Even if this were true, she said, the Education Ministry was not authorized to sign an agreement so directly opposed to state-education regulations.

Simha Bussi, one of the kindergarten teachers, said "we don't have to suffer because of the network's deficient management."