Tamir Expresses Hope for Imminent End to University Strike

Heavy delays expected on the Tel-Aviv - Jerusalem Highway, adjacent roadways; Sides to mull Eini compromise.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Thursday she hoped for an immediate end to the university lecturers' strike, which has been ongoing since the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year.

"I hope all sides would show readiness so that the strike could end today," Tamir said Thursday, regarding recent developments in negotiation over ending the strike which has threatened to topple the entire academic school year.

A source involved in the negotiations between university presidents and treasury officials said the professors were willing to meet with the head of the Histadrut Labor Federation, Ofer Eini, to work out a deal.

Eini has proposed a compromise which could serve as basis for future agreement, the source said.

The source said, however, that "attempts are still being made to convince Finance Minister Roni Bar-On to attend the meeting. The prime minister is likely to intervene in order to demand that Bar-On attend."

Meanwhile, university student organizations descended upon major highways and blocked traffic in the center of the earlier Thursday to protest the deteriorating state of Israel's higher education system.

The students have joined in calls for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to personally intervene in the negotiations.

According to Eini's proposal, the senior faculty would receive a 15.5 percent increase to their wages, to make up for the erosion of their salaries over the 1997-2006 period.

For 2007-2009, the faculty would receive an additional 5 percent increase, and a further 1.5 percent to guard against further erosion of their wages.

Unlike the proposals offered by the heads of the universities, the Eini proposal does not condition the wage increases on the faculty accepting the recommendations of the Shochat Report regarding their terms of employment.

Neither the faculty nor the treasury have rejected the Eini proposal out of hand. Even though it promises lower increases than the strikers have demanded: They originally sought a 35 percent increase, a figure that later dropped to 21 percent. Similarly, the proposed increase intended to guard against further erosion of their salaries is unlikely to be sufficient.

However, in a letter to Tamir, Prof. Zvi Hacohen, of Ben-Gurion University, who heads the coordination committee of all the faculty organizations, wrote that "it seems to us that [Eini's] proposal... could serve as a basis for an agreement."

With regards to the Treasury and its stance on the matter, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said Wednesday that "the faculty are those who are opposed to the Eini proposal."

A source at the Finance Ministry said that the treasury had not adopted the proposal, but said that it is still being "evaluated."

Meanwhile, the heads of the universities have decided to withdraw their calls to the labor court to issue back-to-work injunctions, though their threat to close campuses if an agreement is not reached by Friday midday still stands.

The appeal to the court for injunctions has contributed to a souring of relations between the faculty and the university presidents, which led to calls by the faculty for the dismissal of the university leaders.

The chairman of the university heads committee, Bar-Ilan University president Prof. Moshe Kaveh, said that if the closure does take place, the universities will only be reopened "after a solution is reached."

Throughout the crisis, the university heads committee has issued a series of ultimatums, which they have repeatedly chosen to delay implementation of.

The latest ultimatum has given students the greatest cause for concern. The exam period is due to begin at both Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University on Sunday.

"We asked the presidents of the universities to close down the campuses two months ago, with us, in order to shake up the government," Gil Goldenberg, chairman of Tel Aviv University's student union, said Wednesday. "However, they decided to do this just when the exams are beginning."