Israel's Teachers Union Threatens Strike Before School Year if Demands Not Met

Prime Minister Yair Lapid ordered the treasury and the Education Ministry on Wednesday to formulate a joint position on the talks by the start of next week, but no progress was made at Thursday’s meeting between the two ministries’ negotiators

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High school students in class in Tel Aviv, 2021.
High school students in class in Tel Aviv, 2021.Credit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

The Teachers Union warned on Thursday that the school year won't open September 1 as planned if the Finance Ministry doesn’t change its approach to negotiations over teachers' salaries.

Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Teachers Union, assailed the treasury officials conducting the talks as “a gang of men who think they’ll decide what happens,” adding that “they are divisive and disputatious.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid ordered the treasury and the Education Ministry to formulate a joint position on the talks by the start of next week. No progress was made at Thursday’s meeting between the two ministries’ negotiators, but they plan to meet again on Sunday.

Speaking at an education conference in Ganei Tikva in central Israel, organized by the Federation of Local Authorities, Ben David said teachers’ salaries must be increased. Union officials have been negotiating with treasury representatives over this issue for months, she added, but “they dragged their feet and wouldn’t agree to hand over the money.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton told the conference that she “has a bad feeling” about the opening of the new school year.

“We’ve all been coping with all the gaps and crises, which have intensified in recent years,” she said. “The educational system has been in an ongoing staffing crisis, and then along came the coronavirus and brought this crisis to the fore ... We’re fighting for our children’s future. Parents and children deserve serenity and certainty.”

The treasury said Thursday afternoon that the meeting with Education Ministry and Teachers Union representatives earlier that day “didn’t take place in a businesslike spirit.”

It also responded to the remarks made by Ben David and Shasha-Biton at the conference, saying, “At a time when the Finance Ministry’s negotiating team is sitting in conference rooms with both their professional teams, we don’t understand the ridiculous statement that we aren’t interested in reaching a salary deal. In the absence of substantive responses to the clear, detailed proposal the Finance Ministry made, it’s apparently easier to go on the attack with baseless, tasteless claims.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman unveiled the treasury’s latest offer on Thursday, under which beginning teachers’ salaries would rise to 9,000 shekels ($2,770) a month, roughly what teachers earn today after 10 years of experience. However, the annual raises offered to veteran teachers would remain low, though they would increase slightly, from 300 to 400 shekels a year.

The proposal also offers beginning teachers a grant of 24,000 shekels if they stay in the profession for three years. Homeroom teachers would get an extra 1,100 shekels a month on top of their base pay, while salaries for beginning principals would rise to 20,000 shekels a month.

But the new proposal isn’t substantively different from the last one, especially with regard to entry-level teachers.

Ben David slammed the treasury’s new offer at the conference, saying, “The treasury’s grand offer is adding 400 shekels” a year for veteran teachers.

“What person with any values would want to enter a system with no possibility of advancement?” she asked. “We want to reward teachers and attract quality personnel. Every day, teachers are being abandoned by the system.”

Accusing the treasury of seeking to undermine the profession’s suitability for mothers and teachers’ benefits, she added, “We won’t lend a hand to this. They won’t succeed.”

She also insisted that “this struggle is for the children – so they’ll have better teachers.”

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