Teachers, Government Resume Talks to End 18-day-long Strike

While both sides agree that the teachers deserve a raise, they disagree about its size.

Negotiations between the government and the Secondary School Teachers Association resumed Monday after several days in which the two sides had refused to talk to each other, thanks to the Union of Local Authorities, which volunteered to serve as a mediator.

While sources on both sides said the gaps remain large, the parties agreed to negotiate intensively to try to end the strike by high school teachers, which enters its 18th day Tuesday. Talks will continue Tuesday, and a senior Education Ministry official predicted that the strike could end within a week.

While both sides agree that the teachers deserve a raise, they disagree about its size. The SSTA is demanding an unconditional 15 percent increase, while the government is unwilling to offer that much unless the union also agrees to various reforms, such as more teaching hours, which it has thus far rejected.

However, Education Ministry officials said Monday that the government will almost certainly agree to give the teachers some sort of immediate raise to end the strike, while postponing discussion of reform until a later date. The only question is how big this raise will be.

The union also wants the government to fund additional classroom hours and reduce class sizes, but the Finance Ministry opposes these demands, saying the government must first study the issues thoroughly.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Monday that the two sides have at least agreed that the final raise, including compensation for reforms, will not exceed 26 percent, "and that is already important progress."

But SSTA Chairman Ran Erez insisted that there has been no progress. Monday's meeting, he said, was meant only "to present our precise demands" and to hear "what the finance and education ministries are willing to give."

In light of the resumption of negotiations, the SSTA decided to shelve an advertising campaign targeting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that it had originally planned to launch Tuesday.