Labor Court Rejects Teachers Union Bid to Delay Start of School Year in Israel

The court said that the secondary school teachers unions' constantly finding different pretexts to strike shows bad faith; separate Israel Teachers' Union will continue negotiations with Finance Ministry

High school students in Ashdod take an exam, May 20, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

 The Labor Court has forbidden the Secondary School Teachers' Association to block the opening of the new school year. The court accepted the position taken by the state and the Federation of Local Authorities. It rejected all the arguments made by the teachers’ union, saying that it had agreed to a status quo until March 2020.

The court said that the constant finding of different pretexts to strike contradicts teachers’ commitment to maintain industrial quiet, showing bad faith. “Frequent threats to not contribute to good work relations and to finding solutions to ongoing problems” said the ruling.

The state argued there was no justification for teachers going on strike, and that the pretexts mentioned were baseless. “It’s disappointing to see the union violating the agreements it signed in 2018,” said the petition against granting an injunction to keep the schools closed.

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Meanwhile, a regional labor court judge decided that the Finance Ministry and the Israel Teachers' Union, a separate labor organization whose members teach at all grade levels, will hold intensive negotiations. If the two bodies do not come to an agreement by Friday morning, the court will rule on an injunction.

In response, the Finance Ministry said that it will continue negotiations with the Israel Teachers' Union "out of concern for parents and students, and with the goal of opening the school year as planned."

The head of the teachers’ association, Ran Erez, said the state and local authorities were unwilling to budge on allowing the teachers to strke, “seeing teachers as doormats or punching bags. They think we’re babysitters. That’s why there’s a scarcity in teachers and principals. They talk about the importance of education but invest nothing in it. We have no choice,” he said.

The teachers’ association has declared seven separate labor disputes. Two of these deal with vacation time for principals and night duty for teachers accompanying overnight field trips. The state denies that any changes have been made in the employment conditions of teachers or principals. The state also argues that during the term of a transitional government it is difficult to accede to demands. “The teachers’ association retracted some of the agreements it signed and there is no reason to go on strike.”

The teachers’ association said the intended strike is in protest over the new reform in special education, which allows children with special needs and their parents to opt for inclusion in regular classes. The teachers’ union says this will place an extra burden on teachers who have no training in special education. The Finance Ministry says that talks have reached a deadlock, despite several offers made to the teachers. In contrast, the teachers accused the Finance Ministry of dragging its feet.

Two thousand untenured teachers said they would go on strike for a limited time. These teachers work in special programs for home-bound children and for dropouts. They claim their employers are not abiding by agreements they signed, or that their pay remains unchanged despite increased budgets for these programs.