Teachers' Union to Meet With PM in Bid to End Month-long Strike

Treasury: Teachers' demands would cost state NIS 2.5 billion, lead to 'economic collapse.'

The negotiating team of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) will meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday in hopes of reaching an end to the month-long high school strike.

Government officials said Thursday the demands by striking teachers are exorbitant and cannot be fulfilled.

"Fulfilling the teachers' demands would lead to an economic collapse," a treasury official said after Thursday's round of talks with the SSTA, whose strike enters its 33rd day today.

SSTA chairman Ran Erez said the government must change its priorities and prove it is serious about how important education is.

Today finance and education officials are to meet SSTA representatives again in a bid to end the strike. The SSTA will hold a protest rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square Friday.

The SSTA's three main demands are an 8.5 percent wage increase - which would also be given to elementary-school teachers in return for working more - reducing the number of pupils per class to 30 and restoring slashed instruction hours.

The SSTA is demanding the wage increase already in January, but treasury officials say the overall cost of these demands reaches NIS 2.5 billion.

"After the cabinet approved the budget proposal and submitted it to the Knesset, next year's budget is closed," a senior treasury official said.

"The budget increased the funds for security and Holocaust survivors and there's also the agreement with the Teachers Federation. We won't crash the entire economy because of the strike. As soon as this strike is over, the next struggles will erupt; for example, the struggle for increasing health services."

He said that reducing the number of children per classroom and restoring slashed instruction hours must be spread out over several years.

The treasury's budget director, Kobi Haber, said that "there is no way we can add NIS 2.5 billion to the education budget now."

Erez said that "the money is there, it's a question of priorities. That's the basic meaning of our struggle. If education is so important to the government, it can change the law."