Junior Faculty at Universities to Start Semester With Strike

Organizers calling for an end to employment practices that it says treat junior staff members as subcontracted workers.

Junior faculty members at Israel's seven universities will begin an open-ended strike next month to protest subpar working conditions.

Adjunct lecturers and teaching assistants won't be leading seminars or helping students do lab work come the spring semester, the Coordinating Forum of Junior Academic Staff Associations in Israel said on Monday.

The organization is calling for an end to employment practices that it says treat junior staff members as subcontracted workers. Its announcement comes on the heels of a brief general strike called by the Histadrut labor federation to protest the employment conditions of subcontracted public-sector workers.

"We have exhausted the stage of passing responsibility from one party to another and dragging out the negotiations with innumerable excuses," said Daniel Mishori, who heads the coordinating forum's negotiations team and teaches philosophy at Tel Aviv University.

"The primary person responsible for any expected disruption to the semester and to normal studies is Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who has so far not played any real role in finding a solution to the crisis," Mishori said.

The forum says it has called the strike for the second semester, which begins in March, only after efforts to reach an agreement with the Committee of University Presidents fell through.

The 10,000-plus junior staff members represented by the group - who contribute a total of about half the teaching hours on university campuses - had been holding intermittent strikes earlier this academic year. They stopped about two months ago, after the coordinating forum signed an agreement with the Committee of University Presidents.

The junior faculty members say the presidents committee and the Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee have violated the terms of the deal.

The presidents committee said the strike was unnecessary.

"Instead of putting energy into trying to finish up the process and end the dispute, the junior faculty are calling an unnecessary strike as early as now, and are choosing to harm students and the higher education system without any justification," the committee said in a statement. "The junior staff's strike announcement is in effect turning its back on the understandings we reached. From our perspective, all the agreements we have made are invalid from the moment the strike is announced."