Striking Teachers Threaten High Court Action if Government Secures Back-to-work Orders

The Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) says it will appeal to the High Court of Justice if a lower court issues back-to-work orders to the striking high-school teachers.

As of press time last night, the National Labor Court was still deliberating on the state's request for the orders. The teachers have been striking for more than six weeks.

The labor court said yesterday it will ask for a copy of the cabinet resolution - if approved - "giving force to the statements of the finance and education ministers" during last week's court session.

In response, the relevant ministries rushed to formulate a "declaration for ending the strike" that would have the force of a cabinet resolution, even though the cabinet is not scheduled to discuss the issue until next week.

The declaration itself contains little new beyond the previous promises given by the education and finance ministers. The SSTA said in response that the "cabinet is continuing to avoid giving precise details of the plan to reduce class sizes and restore classroom hours."

According to yesterday's cabinet resolution, NIS 100 million is to be added to the 2008 education budget for additional tuition hours. This amount can pay for about 20,000 instructional hours, while the union is demanding the return of 110,000 hours to the secondary education system.

The cabinet also resolved to direct the education and finance ministers to submit within 75 days a "multiyear plan for reducing class sizes, adding classroom hours and dividing up classrooms." The budget for this will be determined only after the Knesset approves the 2008 state budget, and in keeping with its limitations.

The resolution also includes the details of the proposal being offered to the striking teachers. The main plank is a wage hike of 8.5 percent, in exchange for an additional three hours a week of small-group tutoring per week. The proposal is conditional on the secondary teachers joining, by June 2009, the educational reform to which the country's elementary school teachers agreed earlier this year.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On told the cabinet that these commitments "will be in effect irrespective of the labor court's decision on issuing back-to-work orders" to the striking teachers.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "The cabinet doesn't want a victory over the teachers. We are committed to increasing teachers' salaries significantly and improving education in Israel - but first of all the teachers must stop their strike."

SSTA head Ran Erez said that if if the court issued back-to-work orders, "as an organization we will honor them. However, some teachers will not listen to me and will decide to resign. Those who do not will go back to school without hope. It is not clear whether parents will choose to send their children to school when the teachers are working under an injunction."