Teachers Gear Up for Strike: 'We Will Not Hesitate to Hit the Matriculation Exams'

Education Minister Yuli Tamir met yesterday with the chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association, Ran Erez, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a strike in the seventh to the eleventh grades today. The teachers are protesting the dead-end in negotiations with the Finance Ministry on the teachers' wages and employment conditions.

Junior high schools whose teachers are members of the Israel Teachers Union will not be striking, and the union has reported progress in its talks.

"We have been in talks with the treasury for more than a year to solve the problem of the eroding wages and to sign a new collective wage agreement to improve the teachers salaries - the lowest in the public sector," Erez said yesterday.

"In the three weeks since the sanctions have stopped, only three meetings have been held and even in those, the treasury only wanted to talk about speeding up the process of teacher dismissals. Three more meetings were canceled by the treasury. We received negative replies to all our demands. Since the time frame we made possible was not properly utilized, we have no choice but to renew our struggle," Erez said.

Erez also said the Finance Ministry did not have the authority to act. "The prime minister has not set educational policy or a budgetary framework for the reform. Ehud Olmert promised before the elections that education would be at the top of his agenda, but he has not kept his promise."

The strike is scheduled to last one day, but the Secondary School Teachers Association is considering extending it by a few days, or implementing regional strikes as they did in the weeks before Passover.

However it was decided not to strike at the beginning of next week in order not to disrupt ceremonies marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Secondary School Teachers Association also intends to withhold grades of exams used to back up matriculation scores. Erez also said "we will not hesitate to hit the matriculation exams in grades 11 and 12. We proposed to the Education Ministry to postpone the exams until after the school year, which ends June 20, so we would not disrupt them. We would then also have more time to prepare the students. If it is decided not to postpone the matriculation exams, we will disrupt them," he said.

The Education Ministry said yesterday it would seek restraining orders against the teachers if they disrupted the matriculation exams.

The Israel Teachers Union has reported progress in its talks with the treasury. Agreements are already in place regarding retirement quotas and conditions, and arbitration on wage agreements is nearing its conclusion, with the treasury leaning toward the union's position on pension.