Teachers Brace to Wiggle Around Back-to-work Order

Some 600 teachers representing teachers' committees throughout the country decided yesterday at a meeting in Tel Aviv not to obey a back-to-work order should the National Labor Court issue one. If the court does issue the injunction, the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) will instruct teachers to obey it. However the resolution passed by the group states that each teacher "will act according to his/her conscience, but the main thing is not to go to school."

The SSTA is also planning to petition the High Court of Justice against a back-to-work order if one is issued.

Three thousand teachers had previously signed a letter stating that they would resign if they were forced back to work by a court order.

The SSTA chair, Ran Erez, attended the teachers' meeting yesterday in Tel Aviv, but left before the resolution was passed, apparently not wishing to be involved in a step that might contradict a court order. "I am law-abiding and I will instruct the teachers to go back to work. However, every teacher will decide what to do," Erez said after the meeting. "The struggle is not over, even if the order is issued," he also said. Erez said he was not angry at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "who was revealed to be insensitive, nor at Finance Minister Bar-On, who behaved belligerently throughout the negotiations. But Education Minister Yuli Tamir betrayed us. She should have struggled together with us for the future of the education system. If injunction is issued, it will be a black day for the education system and labor relations in Israel," Erez said.

'Breach of discipline'

According to several teachers who consulted lawyers yesterday, disobeying an injunction is not breaking the law, but a breach of discipline, because the teachers would be considered absent without permission. In such a case, absent teachers can expect warnings, censure or dismissal, as decided by the disciplinary court of the municipality that employs them. Erez said "the request before the labor court states that the SSTA leadership be required to instruct the teachers to go back to work, and that we will do."

If the SSTA does not do so, it could face a fine and or possibly a charge of contempt of court.

"Our goal is that in the coming two days, until Hanukkah vacation starts, the teachers won't go back to teaching in the schools," Daniel Topaz, a teacher at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem said. "I am not prepared to teach under this injunction, which goes against my idea of how teaching should be," Topaz said. He said he would not break the law but would explore all options to continue the struggle.

Among the ideas being discussed is for teachers to take sick days or go to school but not do certain tasks. Since the back-to-work order would not be addressed to individuals, the teachers may also be able to argue that they did not hear about its being issued.

"If we stand as a fortified wall, there will be no significance to the disciplinary infraction of contravening the back-to-work order," yesterday's resolution stated. "Each and every teachers' lounge must rally and call on all colleagues so that if the injunction is issued, we will all be prepared. Our strength and our success depend on mutual responsibility."