Tamir: Teachers Are 'Stuck in the Past'

The tragedy of the teachers' strike is that "the teachers are stuck in the past," Education Minister Yuli Tamir told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee yesterday.

"The government's policy has changed, the working arrangement with the treasury has also changed, but the teachers' association has stayed put," Tamir said. Addressing Secondary School Teachers Association head Ran Erez, whose organization has been on strike for nearly 40 days now, Tamir added: "It's time to lower expectations and give the government more trust."

The strike by secondary school teachers, whose end is still not in sight, was called over several issues. The union has been at loggerheads with the government over the size of an increase in teachers' salaries and its distribution.

In addition, the SSTA is demanding a reduction in the number of students per class.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, who also attended the discussion, said that "the government's plan to cut down on the number of students per class and add school hours to the curriculum will not be a part of the collective employment agreement with the teachers."

He warned that the union's insistence on "dictating" government policy would "divert us from engaging in genuine discussion on the needed changes in the terms of the teachers' employment."

The government has so far refused the teachers' demand that it commit to various steps to reduce the number of pupils per class and reinstate school hours that had previously been cut from the curriculum. The teachers are also demanding that the collective agreement include an increase in pay, but the parties have already reached an unwritten understanding on that issue, under which teachers would receive a pay increase of 8.5 percent. Under the proposed agreement, elementary school teachers would also receive this raise, in return for working more.

The finance minister said that the government has already earmarked an additional NIS 10 billion for the education system.

"We gave that money back when there was no threat of a strike," Bar-On said. However, he added, he refuses to pay it out "without a reform process."

The committee's discussion also focused on the strike by senior university faculty, which is in its fifth week.

The professors' strike began at the opening of the academic year, October 21, and is part of a campaign they are waging to receive compensation for wage erosion.