Israeli Teachers Fume Over ‘Surprise’ Salary Deductions

The penalties are due to wage overpayment from past years, but with overly complex salary structures and no-one to speak to, educators feel let down

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A class in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, September 2020.
A class in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, September 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Education Ministry deducted a total of 26 million shekels ($7.5 million) from the salaries of some 6,200 teachers who had been overpaid due to accounting errors.

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Teachers who spoke to Haaretz say the deductions came years after the error was made, and without a detailed explanation.

The deductions range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of shekels per teacher. Since some of the deductions pertain to decades-old errors, they can reach enormous amounts.

The highest amount deducted in the past two years totaled 148,000 shekels, due to an error discovered in 2018. In 2019, three teachers had their salaries reduced by 11,000 shekels each. In most instances, the sum was deducted from the salaries in a single payment, leaving them without any salary for a month or more. The Education Ministry says the deduction is made only after advance warning to the employees, and with prior agreement.

However, although the ministry is required to inform the teachers of the error and to receive their approval for the deduction, the process is carried out in writing, with no personal contact. “There’s nobody to talk to,” says Moran Talor, whose salary was reduced by 5,000 shekels about a year ago due to a error made five years earlier.

“In a bullying and arbitrary manner they deduct thousands of shekels for an error made years ago. There’s no statute of limitations,” Talor says.

“They said that by mistake they paid me the salary of a regular teacher, during a year when I was still interning.” Due to the deduction, Talor’s salary that month was about 500 shekels. “Fortunately my husband has a stable job, but what about people who don’t have the money?”

The errors in the teachers’ salaries stem from the structure of their wages, which include seniority, education level, age (veteran teachers teach fewer hours without salary deductions), the reform plan to which they belong and additional duties, such as grade-level coordinator, homeroom teacher and matriculation exam preparation.

The Finance Ministry confirms that the structure of teachers’ salaries is more complicated than that of other civil servants. “There’s no way to keep track of the various components of the salary slip,” a Jerusalem high school teacher told Haaretz.

Eran Wieder, a third grade homeroom teacher in the Jerusalem area, heard from senior colleagues about the salary deductions, and thought he could avoid them. “I submitted all the forms and confirmations to the Education Ministry, because I knew that if some form is missing the problems begin. I personally ascertained with the officials that everything was in order. They told me there’s nothing to worry about.” And still, a year later he received warning of a 2,000-shekel debt. “Why? They didn’t explain. I still can’t understand exactly what the reason is. I received this notice with tears in my eyes.”

Preparations for the start of the school year in Rishon Letzion, August 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

He turned to the school principal, but she can’t help. “She told me it happens to everyone. Besides, there’s nothing she can do.” Wieder has yet to arrange his debt with the Education Ministry. He says that the reception hours in the ministry are very limited and there are no direct means of contacting the relevant accountants.

“They say: ‘Prove to us that you don’t owe the money.’ But the burden of proof is theirs, after all, it’s their screw-up. Give me a full explanation of the reasons for the debt, contact me and speak to me. Treat me like any other employer in the country. The Education Ministry ignores the teachers it employs, it’s simply sad.”

In a statement, the Education Ministry said it has a policy of paying salaries fully and on time. “Teachers’ wages are based on the schools’ reports. The ministry is working to reduce the errors stemming from reports by schools or by the ministry’s systems.”

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