State May Seek Court Orders Against Teachers

Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Finance Minister Roni Bar-On are scheduled to meet this morning to discuss the teachers' strike at high schools and some junior highs, now entering its 16th day. On the agenda for the meeting is the possibility of asking the National Labor Court to issue back-to-work orders for the faculty.

This afternoon the Union of Local Authorities' (ULA) leadership will meet with the head of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), Ran Erez, to see if the stalemated negotiations can be advanced.

Meanwhile, the teachers' protest is expanding, with demonstrations and informational events planned throughout the country this week, and set to include parents, pupils and university students supportive of the campaign.

Tomorrow, the Likud faction in the Knesset will submit a vote of no-confidence in the government in view of the crisis in the education system.

According to sources involved in the talks, unless a breakthrough is achieved by the end of this week, the state will apply for court injunctions against the striking teachers, on the grounds that pupils slated to take matriculation exams this term are being harmed.

To serve back-to-work orders, the government needs the ULA, which is the direct employer of secondary-school teachers. However, ULA sources said they would not rush to court if there appears to be a chance of ending the strike.

According to SSTA chair Erez, "Many mayors support us, and therefore, for now, it doesn't look like the ULA will cooperate with the government in issuing injunctions."

Should the government request back-to-work orders, and should the court issue them, Erez says that the SSTA will bring about the collective resignation of thousands of teachers.

"A young teacher today gets less than minimum wage. If the teachers quit, they will be able to find better jobs and the court orders won't have any force," he said.

So far around a thousand teachers have signed a letter announcing they will resign if issued back-to-work orders.

The SSTA will shortly launch a promotional campaign against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"The education minister keeps saying she has the full backing of the prime minister, so he is certainly the address for our complaints," Erez said. "The education and finance ministers have shown themselves incapable of dealing alone with the collapsing education system. Responsibility for a solution resides with the prime minister."

In a letter to Erez, the treasury's wages director, Eli Cohen, charged that in the talks to date, Erez had "refused to negotiate over true reform in the school system within given budgetary constraints... leaving us no option to move forward in the talks."

Cohen also conjectured that Erez's negotiating strategy might be designed to torpedo the reform deal with the Israel Teachers Union. That organization is demanding a 15-percent wage increase, to be paid to all secondary-school teachers, as well as a commitment to reduce class sizes and restore the cuts made to instruction hours in recent years.

Alongside the protest activities by Erez's striking teachers, the National Pupils and Youth Council has decided to show support for their campaign and plans to stage demonstrations on Wednesday at 10 locations throughout the country.

"We will not sit by and observe the teachers' struggle from the sidelines," the council's chair, Nir Katrero, said. "Their struggle is our struggle."

Ironically, the National Pupils and Youth Council, which represents youngsters in grades 7 through 12 vis-a-vis the government and other official bodies, is under the auspices of the Education Ministry.