Gov't to Ask Court to Halt Teacher Strike; PM: They Won't Break Us

Bar-On, Tamir: We have done all we can to reach agreement with teachers; Peres offers services as mediator.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Monday they will request that the National Labor Court issue an injunction against the secondary school teachers' strike.

Bar-On and Tamir said that government representatives have done everything in their power to reach an agreement with teachers over ending the strike, which is in its 41st day.

Bar-On said: "A month ago we agreed to enter arbitration overseen by a third party, who did everything he could - and was forced to give up. After this we involved Histadrut [labor federation] Chairman Ofer Eini, but this also yielded no results."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters in Washington on Monday that the teachers would not break the government, and repeated his refusal to negotiate personally with their union head.

Olmert stressed that: "The request that I sit down to negotiations in place of the education and finance ministers is rude and unsuitable."

"I trust the education minister and the finance minister ? and anything else is simply a populist demand," the prime minister added later.

Olmert has rejected earlier requests to meet with Secondary School Teachers Association Ran Erez over ending the strike.

The prime minister continued: "There is no subject in which I am more involved than that of education. I am very disturbed by the fact there is no agreement. There is no chance that someone will break the government."

"For our part, we don't want to break the teachers, we just want the [education] reform to be carried out. It's a shame that the teachers' representatives weren't ready to understand that there is no other option apart from this reform," the prime minister said.

Earlier Monday President Shimon Peres said he was willing to mediate in the deadlocked talks between the treasury and secondary school teachers.

Tamir, responding to Sunday talks which yielded only a raft of mutual recriminations, said that teacher union chief Ran Erez "missed an enormous opportunity for a new influx of funds to the educational system, when he rejected the treasury's proposals." She said the treasury was also willing to move on the teachers' other demands.

The teachers are striking for a 15 percent wage raise, as well as restoration of class hours lost to budget cuts, and marked reductions in the numbers of pupils per class.

Finance Ministry officials have said that the treasury would agree to a 11percent increase, but would not allow the other demands to become part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Erez said after the Sunday meeting that the treasury had offered only "general promises" regarding class size and restoration of hours. "We're not returning to teach just for promises like these," he said.

A senior treasury official, asked Monday if the talks have returned to square one, replied that the discussions are "going in reverse." He said that Erez had rejected the treasury stance Sunday for "considerations of ego"

Another official, in a reference to Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, told Army Radio that Erez had "barricaded himself in his positions deeper than Nasrallah in his bunker."

A union official rejected the criticism, declaring that the public was unanimous in supporting the teacher's positions, and that Erez, in standing his ground on the teachers' demands, was doing exactly as the rank-and-file wished.