Teachers' Union Holds Up Israeli High Schools' Transition to Five-day Week

The Secondary School Teachers' Union ties its consent to improving teachers' wages and work conditions

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
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High school students in Givatayim.
High school students in Givatayim.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

The Education Ministry’s plans to begin the transition to a five-day week in Israel’s high schools is being held up by the teachers' union, which is tying its consent to other demands it’s making in the framework of a new wage agreement.

Under the plan being formulated by ministry officials, some 200 high schools – about 10 percent of the country’s total – will no longer have classes on Fridays starting this September. The rest of the country’s high schools will move to the five-day format in the following years.

Israel is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development where a six-day school week is the norm. Because Israeli students attend school six days a week, while teachers work a five-day week, the Education Ministry must employ more teachers than it would otherwise be required to.

But Ran Erez, the head of the Secondary School Teachers Association, said this week he would fight any plan that wasn’t reached in negotiations with the union.

The Education Ministry had tried to begin a rollout of the five-day week in time for the current school year, but it encountered opposition not only from the teachers unions but from inside the ministry due to the complexity of the transition.

Nevertheless, the ministry eventually reached an agreement in principle with the union, conditioned on the teachers agreeing to all of the plan’s components, including giving them another day off in addition to Fridays, in effect cutting their work week to four days.

But now the union says it will fight the transition anyway, insisting that implementation be tied to negotiations over a new wage agreement. Those got underway recently, during which Erez demanded, among other things, that the teachers be awarded an additional day off for professional studies or training. This week he appealed to high school teachers to refuse to cooperate in the switch to a five-day week until negotiations on the issue are completed.

In a letter to union members on Sunday, Erez said the Education Ministry was using “salami tactics” to advance its plans for a five-day week, without conducting talks with the teachers and a collective agreement. He accused officials of seeking to present teachers with a fait accompli that harms work conditions for them and for principals.

Erez said he also intended to use the negotiations to fight Education Ministry plans to replace matriculation exams in the humanities with essay tests and a Finance Ministry initiative to switch to a differential pay scale that gives higher salaries to teachers of subjects in demand and ties pay to performance. Attempts to reduce the number of teacher vacation days will also be opposed, he said in the letter.

During last year’s general election, the New Hope party, to which Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton belongs, made ending Friday classes a key part of its platform on education policy. However, while the Education Ministry is still trying to move the plan forward in high schools, a similar plan for elementary schools is stuck.

The Israel Teachers Union, headed by Yaffa Ben David, which represents the elementary and junior high school teachers, opposes the measure but is expected to discuss it in negotiations with the treasury.

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