Court Orders Talks With Teachers; State Withdraws Back-to-work Order for Now

The National Labor Court ruled last night it would not order striking teachers back to work if they and the education and finance ministries enter intense negotiations starting today. The strikers and the government will have to issue a joint statement on their progress by 3 P.M. today.

As part of the compromise, the state withdrew its request for the back-to work-orders, so the strike will continue for the time being.

The head of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), Ran Erez, called the ruling a "clear victory for the teachers, who from the beginning asked for real negotiations with the government."

The treasury's director of wages, Eli Cohen, said the significance of the ruling was the "creation of a framework for talks under court supervision."

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry is scrutinizing a proposal by the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini.

Hundreds of teachers demonstrated in front of the court in Jerusalem during the hearing. A number of protesters tied themselves to the metal barrier on the traffic divider in an attempt to block traffic.

Organizers said the police arrested three teachers.

Some protesters held up hand-written signs with the words "teachers in handcuffs," "you will not break us" and "we are with Ran Erez."

One protester said that if the Labor Court issued back-to-work orders "we will have to consider whether to stay in this profession at all."

"We're strong," Anat Pik, a teacher at the capital's Boyer school, said outside the Labor Court last night. "If we made it this far, the struggle can't be stopped. It's time to decide the struggle over education, and the parents understand today that the teachers have started a major social change and not this or that salary hike. The fact that so many teachers came to demonstrate shows that there is no intention to give in on demands like smaller classes. The goal is to change priorities in society and place education at the top."

The Histadrut's Eini met yesterday afternoon with Education Minister Yuli Tamir in an attempt to move talks ahead between the government and the SSTA, whose members have been striking now for over three weeks. Various sources said Eini proposed to Tamir that all high school teachers be granted a 13.5- to 15-percent raise, but that this addition would also have to be given to the Teachers Union, whose members are elementary school teachers.

According to Eini's proposal, the raise would consist of the 5-percent pay hike all Histadrut members recently received, about 6 percent to compensate for wage erosion and another approximately 5 percent in exchange for additional hours. The proposed agreement, which various sources said Tamir and Erez had agreed to in principle, includes a total pay raise of 26 percent, like that given to the members of the Teachers Union.

A source in the Education Ministry said the treasury would have to approve the agreement, and that at this time it does not relate to the teachers' demand for smaller classes.

The sources said it had not yet been decided how many additional hours the teachers would give.

Shortly before last night's hearing started, Eini released a statement that "as a result of intensive talks a proposal has been made that can lead to a breakthrough."

The Education Ministry said a "politically isolated" Tamir "can't allow herself not to go to these meetings, out of which nothing good can come." The treasury said Eini had a clear political and personal interest to mediate the dispute, adding that "the Labor Court, which has no such interests, is the only place to solve the conflict."

Tamara Traubmann adds: Meanwhile, researchers from the various universities are planning a "professors' protest" tomorrow in front of the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, demanding increased research funding. The universities' senior faculty strike continues today after talks between the lectures and the Finance Ministry proved fruitless. "We demand commitment and not talk," said Professor Zvi HaCohen, chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Senior Faculty Associations.