Teachers, Gov't Deny Breakthrough in Talks to End Month-long Strike

Progress had been reported Tuesday, when Finance Ministry time agreed to demand for immediate blanket 10% raise.

The teachers union and the government both denied Wednesday reports of a breakthrough in the talks aimed at ending a strike that has shut down high schools for more than 30 days.

Progress had been made in talks Tuesday between the government and the Secondary School Teachers Association.

According to sources involved in the negotiations Tuesday, the Finance Ministry for the first time agreed to the SSTA's demand for an immediate 10 percent raise for all teachers. These talks were held at the highest level: Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, SSTA Chairman Ran Erez and Histadrut labor federation chair Ofer Eini.

However, disputes remain over two of the union's other demands: reducing the number of students per class and restoring classroom hours that were cut in previous years.

"The treasury has begun to move toward us and has become slightly more flexible on two principal issues," Erez said after the talks. "They are willing to give the teachers an immediate raise, as a down payment on a future reform, and the raise will be given to all secondary-school teachers."

The Finance Ministry denied in a press statement that any agreement had been reached on either the size of the raise or when it would be paid. But sources involved in the talks said agreement was reached on an immediate 10 percent raise, which will be the first installment of the 26 percent raise that teachers will receive once the parties agree on a reform of secondary education.

The parties have not yet agreed on what additional work teachers will have to do in exchange for the 10 percent raise. The SSTA objects to additional frontal teaching hours; instead, it is proposing that teachers simply spend an additional hour at school, which they will use to complete various tasks connected with their jobs.

Positions softening

The sources said that Tuesday's progress was made possible by a softening of positions on both sides: The treasury withdrew its objection to granting a significant pay increase before any reform had been agreed on, while the SSTA agreed to accept less than the immediate 15 percent raise it had initially demanded.

The sources added that whatever raise is agreed on with the SSTA will also be granted to members of the National Teachers Union, which is not striking. That union, which represents elementary-school teachers, has already agreed with the treasury on a reform under which teachers will work more hours in exchange for a 26 percent raise.