Histadrut Head Eini Offers to Mediate in High School Strike

The court hearing on whether to issue back-to-work orders for striking secondary-school teachers was postponed until today, after Histadrut labor federation leader Ofer Eini offered to mediate between the government and the Secondary School Teachers Association. Meanwhile, the teachers' strike is entering its 24th day.

The Union of Local Authorities, which had requested the back-to-work orders, yesterday asked the National Labor Court to delay the hearing by 24 hours.

Eini said after the postponement that he was disappointed by the government's stance, and would consider various measures to show solidarity with the teachers. Various sources have said these measures may include declaring a general labor dispute and brief strikes.

Earlier yesterday, Eini met with Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the director general of the Finance Ministry, Yarom Ariav. Officials involved in the talks with the SSTA said this was not a negotiation meeting, but rather an attempt to ascertain how Eini is proposing to resolve the dispute with the teachers.

Treasury and education ministry officials later met with two others who offered their mediation services yesterday: Israel Teachers Union secretary general Yossi Wasserman, and Education Watch, a movement headed by businessman Dov Lautman.

Government sources were skeptical about the chances of any of these mediators achieving a breakthrough in the talks. However, one official said, "The government wants to show the labor court that it has tried everything to end the crisis."

At a meeting yesterday morning, the Histadrut leadership authorized Eini "to take whatever action necessary, including collective steps, to advance a speedy solution to the teachers' strike."

Eini said he held talked with officials in the finance and education ministries at the end of last week, and that these conversations left him with the impression that "there is a willingness to seriously consider the guidelines we proposed a week ago."

Those guidelines include four points: 1. Secondary-school teachers would receive a pay raise of 26 percent, over five years. 2. In return, teachers would work an additional three hours per week (not in classroom instruction). 3. The pay raise would apply to all teachers. 4. The sides would start talks on reforms, such as reducing classroom size and restoring slashed instruction hours, as teachers have demanded.

The Histadrut has promised that any monetary gain the teachers win under the reform would not be grounds for renegotiating agreements with other sectors in the economy.

Eini said that decisions regarding "solidarity measures" with the teachers would depend on progress in the negotiations.

When Eini offered last week to help mediate between the sides, the education and finance ministries were far from thrilled about the Histadrut chairman getting involved. His overtures aroused suspicion again yesterday.

"Eini doesn't have any legal standing in this dispute. The only place to resolve the crisis is the labor court," one official said.