Teacher Talks Go On, but No Progress Reported

Teacher and government representatives met twice yesterday to settle the ongoing strike, but various sources report no progress, in contract negotiations being conducted under the supervision of the National Labor Court.

In addition, the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Secondary School Teachers Association are trying to promote a proposal by Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini to end the strike affecting high schools nationwide, which has now reached 26 days.

Under Eini's proposal, teachers would receive an immediate pay hike of 15 percent, comprised of various components. However, the Finance Ministry opposes the proposal.

Senior Histadrut officials attacked treasury wages director Eli Cohen, and the teachers union has even asked that he be removed from further talks. The treasury was quick to support Cohen, stating in a press release that Cohen "is conducting the negotiations for, and with the support of, the finance minister and senior ministry management."

The sides are scheduled to report today to the labor court about the situation in the talks.

According to a National Labor Court ruling on Tuesday night, Finance and Education ministry officials and SSTA representatives entered intensive negotiations slated to design a layout of the talks. These negotiations led to the creation of two teams - a pedagogical team focusing on matters like lowering class size, and an economic team focused on pay structure and the teachers' work week.

According to SSTA chief Ran Erez, "the treasury wants to postpone as much as possible the discussion of reform in secondary schools, and is unwilling to discuss our demands to reduce the number of students in the classroom and restore class hours, although these are not even part of the reform. Instead of progressing in negotiations, which could be completed in a matter of hours, the treasury just reiterates offers we have already rejected."

Erez is referring to an offer in which some of the wage hike would be comprised of compensation for past salary erosion.

"That compensation is not a pay raise, but something the treasury must give," said Erez. "On the other hand, they are unwilling to grant pay raises as an advance on the reform, while they are completely unwilling to discuss the reform."

In contrast, the treasury said after yesterday's first meeting that "the labor court decision that talks be held under court sponsorship has proven itself, and for the first time, this meeting was businesslike and practical."

According to Eini's proposal, all secondary teachers would receive immediate 15 percent raises - comprised of the 5 percent agreed to with the Histadrut, 5 percent compensation for pay erosion, and a 5 percent hike for which teachers would have to add working hours and which would be considered an advance on a planned reform of secondary education. The treasury vehemently opposes both the proposal and Eini's intervention in the crisis.

According to Eini, the proposal is acceptable to Education Minister Yuli Tami and Erez, and even some treasury officials, but not wage director Cohen. Some SSTA representatives go even further, saying Cohen is more interested in breaking a labor union than in promoting education.

Treasury officials explain that the resistance to the proposal is that all teachers would benefit from an advance on an as yet undetermined reform that may not eventually impact all teachers.