Olmert Calls on Striking Lecturers to Bring Arbitrator Into Negotiations

Olmert says in special Knesset session he won't succomb to professors' 'threats' to cancel the semester.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on striking lecturers on Wednesday to accept an arbitrator to facilitate negotiations with the Treasury on the erosion of their salaries.

Olmert, speaking during a special Knesset session on the education crisis also said he would not surrender to "threats" from the professors to cancel the semester.

Addressing the lecturers, Olmert said that the "attempt to exploit the semester in order to subdue the government won't work. Not on this matter and not on anything else."

Olmert called the repeated refusal of professors to appoint an arbitrator "not serious," and said that they government would "agree to any reasonable arbitrator. We don't have a rabbit in our pocket, but I am unwilling to accept such behavior or aggressive negotiations with ultimatums."

The prime minister said that the government has added in recent years almost NIS four billion shekels to the education budget, and is gearing up to invest another NIS five billion in a reform it agreed upon with the primary school teachers' union.

"The last government that launched a revolution in education was the Rabin government," he said, adding, "We did a series of things. Whoever thought that in one night, you can solve years of [budget] cuts is not serious."

Treasury nixes proposals to end lecturers strike

The Finance Ministry plans to issue an unequivocal "no" on Wednesday to two proposals raised on Monday as part of an effort to bring to an end the 10-week-old strike by senior university faculty.

The proposals, raised at a meeting between treasury officials, the lecturers' representatives and the university presidents, under the auspices of National Labor Court President Steve Adler, had been billed at the time as "great progress" by Prof. Moshe Kaveh, who chairs the Council of University Presidents. The treasury's rejection will thus "bring us back to square one," said one participant in the talks.

Both sides are slated to respond to the proposals on Wednesday, as Adler gave them 24 hours to consider the ideas.

Both proposals addressed one of the major grievances behind the lecturers' strike: their demand for a mechanism that would prevent the erosion of their wages. One, presented by Adler, stated that every two years, lecturers should be given the same raise that the top 10 percent of the civil service received during the same period. The other, presented by Hebrew University President Menachem Magidor, would link the lecturers' pay to the average wage among all workers with 16 years or more of education - a group that includes high-tech workers.

However, the treasury objects to linking the pay of any group of workers to that of any other group.

"That has serious ramifications," said a treasury official. "Linkage disrupts work agreements, and it has grave implications for the entire economy." Among other things, such an agreement would not only affect university faculty; it would also affect researchers at various government facilities such as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, since their pay is already linked to that of senior university lecturers.

An additional problem with Adler's proposal, the official said, is that no index of the salaries earned by the top 10 percent of civil servants currently exists.

No confidence at Hebrew U.

Meanwhile, Hebrew University faculty voted no confidence in Magidor Tuesday at a meeting specially called for this purpose, a response to Magidor's having joined the other university presidents in applying to the labor court for back-to-work orders against the striking lecturers. The vote was 134-60, with 20 abstentions. The motion, however, is purely declarative, and has no binding force.

At the meeting, all of the university's deans announced that while they support the goals of the strike, they vehemently oppose the no-confidence motion.

Magidor said that he regrets the motion. "I still think that the decision to go for injunctions was unavoidable and the only way to prevent the disaster of canceling the academic year," he said.