Treasury to Offer Teachers: 25% Wage Hike for Reform

Senior Finance Ministry officials including Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson will meet today to discuss the labor dispute with the nation's teachers. Education Minister Yuli Tamir is slated to join the discussions later in the day. Tomorrow, treasury officials will meet representatives of the teachers unions - Yossi Wasserman and Ran Erez. The treasury is slated to present its response to teachers' demands.

Several treasury officials are slated to offer teachers pay hikes of as much as 25 percent on the condition that they agree to reform the education system. The officials are not pushing the far-reaching Dovrat reform, but a more modest version that involves NIS 5-7 billion in spending over four years. The Education Ministry will be forced to carry some of the burden, and fund about NIS 2 billion out of its own budget.

Treasury budgets division officials say the education minister is incapable of pushing any reform through, as she is unwilling to wage war with the teachers unions, so there is no point in offering teachers large pay hikes.

However, teachers' starting salaries of NIS 3,800 is ridiculous and must be addressed. The treasury does plan an NIS 1,000 upgrade to starting salaries when the reform agreement is signed.

Teachers representatives say they are willing to accept reform but they have three preconditions:

1. Examining the erosion of their wages between 1999-2005, and the payment of an advance against the calculation of the erosion.

2. A 10 percent advance against wage agreements that will cover the years 2005-2008.

3. An undertaking to apply any Histadrut achievements in bargaining for public sector wage agreements, to teachers.

The treasury is unwilling to accept the teachers' preconditions either in terms of wages or reforming the sector.

The treasury proposes a reform that includes three main principles:

1. Transforming the Education Ministry from managing the system to regulating the system and setting policies.

2. Granting school principals managerial flexibility, allowing them to hire and fire teachers, and offering pay raises to teachers who excel.

3. Increasing teachers' classroom hours, without lengthening the school day.

Negotiations with the teachers started about a month ago, and teachers unions immediately launched a broad advertising and public relations campaign and labor sanctions. The question is if a widespread, protracted strike in the school system is inevitable or if an agreement is attainable - without a major school strike.