State Asks Labor Court to Force Teachers Back to Class; Union Threatens to Appeal

The education and finance ministries yesterday asked the National Labor Court to issue back-to-work orders for the country's secondary school teachers, who have been on strike for three weeks. A date has still not been set for a hearing on the matter.

If the court refuses the state's request the Education Ministry will open alternative study centers for pupils to prepare for their matriculation exams, ministry officials said.

The chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), Ran Erez, said that if the court complies with the state's request, he will appeal to the Supreme Court. If this is rejected, he will call for a collective resignation by high school teachers.

The education and finance ministries and Union of Local Authorities asked the court for the back-to-work orders before dawn yesterday. The court ordered the SSTA to answer the request by Sunday noon.

"The SSTA refused all the solutions offered by the state and did not propose any basis for wage negotiations that we could accept," the ministries wrote in their request.

In the previous school year the teachers' sanctions caused a loss of 525,000 study hours. This year a loss of 1.35 million study hours has been caused by their sanctions and strike, the request says. "This is an irreversible loss of hours that cannot be regained."

The request says that back-to-work orders would prevent a further disruption in pupils' studies for their matriculation exams.

"We didn't want to ask for back-to-work orders but our aim is to restore sanity to the education system," an official involved in the negotiations said. "The teachers are entering their fourth week of strike. We don't want to break the teachers and stop the entire strike but to return to negotiations. Since the SSTA is preventing this we have no choice but to ask for the court's help."

Erez said that if the Labor Court agrees to the state's request, it would become "the government's operative arm. In this case the treasury will have no motivation to negotiate with us."

On Sunday Erez is due to attend a gathering of parents' committees in a bid to recruit them to the teachers' struggle.

"If we go back to teaching because of back-to-work orders, no problem will be solved - neither the overcrowded classrooms nor the slashed study hours," he said.

Erez yesterday met representatives of the United States embassy in Israel.

"When I warned that we would tell the truth about Israel's education system to foreign bodies, they thought I was hallucinating. The next day people from the American embassy asked to meet me to learn what we were fighting for," Erez said.