Neither a Revolution nor a Turning Point

In the history of labor disputes in Israel, 1982 stands out as particularly eventful. After prolonged sanctions and strikes the teachers achieved something new: two 'prep hours' a week.

In the history of labor disputes in Israel, 1982 stands out as particularly eventful. After prolonged sanctions and strikes the teachers achieved something new: two "prep hours" a week. It was a trick to raise their wages. The Education Ministry said the teachers would stay at school for two extra hours to plan lesson outlines and tutor weak pupils in exchange for a pay increment.

In the first year of the agreement everything worked just fine. The teachers even filled attendance reports, which were submitted to the Education Ministry. But there, in Jerusalem, the officials didn't know what to do with the tens of thousands of reports that arrived every month. It became clear rather soon that the ministry was not willing or able to check the reports.

In the second year of the agreement, the teachers argued they had been cheated. Teachers had gaps in their schedules averaging three hours a week. They did not teach during these hours and spent the time in the staff room. The teachers asked to be able to use the gaps for "prep" time. So the clause for "prep hours" disappeared. Nobody dared touch the pay increment, of course.

A generation has passed since then and now the trick is being repeated. The treasury reported that the teachers would work 20 percent more hours - this is a deception, as it was then.

Up until now, grammar school teachers have taught in class for an average of 25 hours a week. Following the reform they will teach for 26 hours. A ludicrous addition of one hour. But to justify the pay raise both sides resorted to "prep hours." Teachers will be required to put in five weekly "prep hours" and five weekly "tutoring" hours. That means they will have to stay in school another 10 hours a week.

But life is stronger than any agreement. The five "prep hours" will soon disappear, as they have in the past. No principal will be able to force a teacher to stay who says she must rush to take her child from kindergarten.

"Prep hours" are a bad idea in any case. People choose their career not according to the highest pay but to the highest benefit. In teaching there are several benefits: coming home at lunchtime, long annual vacations of three and a half months and a sabbatical every seven years.

That is why good teachers who have chosen this profession would be harmed by the artificial compulsion of "prep hours."

Tutoring small groups will not happen either. The teachers will argue that for this "physical conditions" are required, such as a room and computer for every teacher and special classes for small groups. And by the time the billions are found for construction, everyone will have forgotten the reason.

The agreement holds another surprise - the "erosion agreement" for fatigue on the job. The teachers demanded an erosion increment for the years 1999 to 2006. The treasury claimed the amounts involved were minute and agreed to arbitration. That was a bad mistake. Today it appears that the sums are extremely high, several times more than the treasury's estimates.

So the teachers' wage increment will not be 26 percent, but much more. It will have three levels: the "reform" - 26 percent; the "erosion agreement" - apparently 5 percent, and the general wage agreement, which will be signed between the government and the Histadrut and be apparently 6 percent.

When properly calculated, it appears the teachers will get a 40 percent wage increment altogether, which is reminiscent of the raise they received in 1993 during the government of Yitzhak Rabin and finance minister Avraham Shochat. It wasn't a reform then, and it's not now.

Yet there's one glimmer of light in the agreement - the flexibility granted to principals in managing both the teachers and the school budget. But here too their power is limited and it is not clear how this will be implemented.

So it is funny to hear the treasury's groundless pathos when it states that this is "a revolution in the education system for the first time since the establishment of the state." It is even more ridiculous to hear Education Minister Yuli Tamir say that this is a "turning point."

This is neither a revolution nor a turning point. It's another government capitulation.