Teachers' Union Talks With Treasury End Without Result

Government officials: Talks likely to lead to agreement in day or two; teachers held mass rally Saturday.

Despite high hopes, Teachers' union talks with treasury ended Sunday evening without result.

Secondary School Teachers Union head Ran Erez, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and a treasury official resumed talks with the mediation of Ofer Eini, the chairman of Histadrut labor federation.

Erez said that the deal fell through because the Finance Ministry refuses to cut down on the number of student per class.

On the other hand, government officials said that Erez was looking for the talks too fail and that Erez apparently is interested in dragging out the strike.

Hopes had been high following the teachers' union held a mass rally on Saturday evening at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to protest the impasse in talks with the government over education reforms.

Eini told Army Radio before the talks that he hoped the strike could be brought to an end following the day's negotiations.

Education Ministry and treasury officials said that the talks with the teachers are likely to lead to the end of the strike in a day or two. An Education Ministry official said that "we only have to wait until Erez's euphoria following the rally fades."

Tamir said Saturday that she hoped that "after the demonstration, the teachers will be willing to sit and talk about concrete solutions."

"Undoubtedly, most protesters want to see an increased investment in education, but also see pupils return to school," she said.

PM to striking teachers: Resume talks and stop the dramaPrime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday called on the Secondary School Teachers' Union to resume negotiations and end their strike.

"I urge the Teachers' Union to go back to the negotiation table and call off all the drama," Olmert said during an inauguration ceremony of an advanced technology park in Be'er Sheva.

"With all due respect, there is no reason why the union head should meet with the prime minister in person," he said. "The finance and education ministers have my full backing in carrying out the negotiations and reaching an agreement. The teachers must take part in our plan to reform the education system and make it better. The strike is uncalled for."

High school teachers have been on strike for over a month with no end in sight as the two sides are at loggerheads over the size of the increase in teachers' salary and its distribution.

He said that the government does not stir confrontation with the teachers, but rather respects them. "I know how difficult it is to be a teacher and value every teacher for his efforts," he said.

"For many years, underinvestment has led to poor resources and low wages. This should also be tackled, but decades of negligence cannot be made up for overnight. We will make an effort, but the teachers could and should take part."

Labor MK Avishay Braverman, the former president of Be'er Sheva's Ben Gurion University, also spoke at the ceremony. "[Former prime minister David] Ben Gurion knew that the future is in education, science, technology and the Negev." Braverman called on Olmert to reduce bureaucracy so that resources could be allocated to meet these ends.