The Israel Teachers Union announced Thursday it was suspending its two-day-old strike, allowing kindergartens and elementary schools to open Friday.
The union said it was freezing the strike at the request of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, after what it called a “serious” meeting between union chief Yaffa Ben-David and Kobi Bar-Nathan, director of salary and employment agreements in the Finance Ministry. The union said the talks will resume Sunday.
Kindergartens and elementary schools were closed nationwide Thursday, except for special education institutions. The Federation of Local Authorities said it would permit local governments to operate kindergartens with the help of non-teaching staff, but the union representing teachers’ aides ordered its members not to break the strike, even if it affected their pay, and said that if necessary they will strike September 1, the first day of the new school year.
Nonetheless, kindergartens in Modi’in, Lod, Ma’aleh Adumim, Harish, Nes Tziona, Kfar Sava and Tzur Yigal, as well as communities in the Mateh Binyamin, Mateh Yehuda and Hof Ashkelon regional councils were open.
Haim Bibas, the mayor of Modi`in-Maccabim-Reut and chair of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, said Thursday that “while we support the teachers’ struggle to improve their employment terms, this is not our way. We won’t allow Israeli parents and children to be held hostage from one moment to the next.”
Shasha-Biton said in an interview with Channel 12 News Thursday that Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman could meet with the teachers right away to bring an end to the strike. “Applying a bandage for a few days will not solve the huge crisis,” she said.
Lieberman announced Wednesday a measure to circumvent the strike by allocating funds for activities in schools and kindergartens starting Sunday if the strike continues next week. The move involves bringing up the start date for summer programs in schools, which were scheduled to begin July 1, and staffing them with teacher’s aides, after-school program employees, external staff and teachers who are willing to be scabs.
“It turns out the treasury does have money, but it prefers to give it to day-camp operators rather than teachers,” Ben-David said in response to the finance minister’s announcement, adding, “The Finance Ministry is telling the public and teachers that there is no need for professional teachers to be responsible for the education of Israel’s next generation.”
The sanctions were prompted by the stalemate in talks over a new collective bargaining agreement. Last week schools opened two hours late one day – each day in a different area of the country. The two-hour delayed opening was expanded to the entire country Sunday through Tuesday this week, and on Wednesday a full strike was announced.
Lieberman stressed Wednesday that the treasury and the union disagree over the allocation of wage increases between younger teachers and their more experienced colleagues. The Finance Ministry wants to close the salary gaps between these two groups, which are among the highest in the industrialized world, while the union wants the pay raise to be given to all teachers.
The treasury also wants to introduce a mechanism that will allow school principals to reward good teachers monetarily, as well as to change the school calendar so that vacation days overlap with the rest of the economy. Ben-David has rejected these proposals. At the big teachers’ demonstration three weeks ago, she proclaimed that “vacation days are not up for discussion” and that “the summer vacation is the oxygen that teachers need.”