Strike Averted, School Year Starts With Few Hitches

The new school year opened in most of Israel yesterday after the National Labor Court agreed to the authorities' request and prohibited high school teachers from striking or disrupting studies.

Some institutions remained closed in a few cities including Safed, mostly due to strikes by parents committees and a strike by caretakers at child care centers run by the Naamat women's organization. At the start of the 2010-11 school year, Israel had 1.5 million students in elementary and high schools, as well as 373,000 children attending day care centers and kindergartens.

First graders arriving for their first day of school, Kibbutz Sasa on Sept. 1, 2010.
Yaron Kaminsky

Early yesterday morning, a seven-judge panel headed by court president Steve Adler overruled the high school teachers' decision to hold a one-day warning strike on the first day of school. The judges sided with the Education Ministry and the Union of Local Authorities, particularly criticizing the short notice the teachers gave.

"We cannot approve the launching of a strike in the education system on the eve of a school year, announced through the media, without notifying the employers and other relevant officials and allowing them to prepare," the court said.

The judges, who called in the parties to hear the verdict at 4 A.M., rejected the argument by the Teachers Union that, because their collective agreement ended 10 months ago, they could go on strike. They said that the "New Horizon" agreement signed with the government was binding for teachers for the seventh to ninth grades.

The state, meanwhile, said it was willing to continue negotiating with teachers for the 10th to 12th grades on both working conditions and education reform. "As a long as negotiations have not been exhausted, we see no justification for the strike," the judges wrote.

Union chairman Ran Erez, however, shouted at the judges. "This is completely shameful, the decision was pre-arranged," he said. Erez said the ministry's requests for an injunction "won't improve our relationship. This school year is going to be a stormy one." Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar welcomed the court's decision.

Despite the ruling, six schools in the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom didn't open yesterday after parents committees said the schools were too overcrowded. In Rahat, the Al-Zahra school was also kept closed by the parents committee because of repairs that could not be completed on time.

The caretakers at the Naamat day care centers also held a one-day strike, with 18,000 children up to 3 years old staying at home throughout the country. The caretakers traveled to Jerusalem to protest in front of the Finance Ministry against what they consider their low pay. They were joined by the organization's board and chairwoman.

In Tel Aviv, municipal day care centers and preschools started the year without music classes. The music teachers, who traditionally have been hired as freelancers by parents committees, say the municipality wants to hire them on a permanent basis as municipal workers at lower pay.

The municipality said the Education Ministry had not authorized music classes at the child care centers, while the Education Ministry said any additional activity such as music classes should be run through the municipality, whether directly or indirectly.

The ministry also noted that some music teachers in the city were employed directly by the ministry; these teachers began work this year as usual. One music teacher told Haaretz she and her colleagues had hired a lawyer to negotiate with the municipality, but city officials refused to meet with her and shifted responsibility for the process to the Education Ministry.