Teachers' Union Head: Without Progress, We Will Appeal to High Court

The heads of the striking high school teachers union met with government officials last night for the first time since the Labor Court issued back-to-work orders earlier this week.

The National Labor Court issued back-to-work orders late Tuesday forcing high school teachers to end the strike that had been set to enter its 49th day. The teachers were ordered to return to work on December 13, after the Hanukkah vacation.

The Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) decided yesterday to suspend its appeal to the High Court of Justice against the labor court ruling and to proceed according to the negotiations' progress.

The court's orders will go into effect after the holiday, giving both sides a chance to reach an agreement by then. The court also offered the teachers the option of returning voluntarily to work before the end of the holiday, and pledged that they would be compensated them in accordance with holiday wages.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said the injunctions did not reduce the treasury's "commitment to continue the talks as though nothing has happened. The solution to the crisis will not be achieved by force."

However, the SSTA doubts the sincerity of education and finance ministers' statements that the injunctions, which the cabinet had requested, would not hinder the negotiations' progress.

"These ministries have no interest in conducting real negotiations now that they have the back-to-work orders," SSTA chairman Ran Erez said.

He said the association decided to suspend the appeal to the High Court because "we want to see what content the treasury will put into the empty statements it scattered about reducing the number of pupils per classroom and restoring slashed teaching hours. If we see in a few days that there is no progress, we will file the appeal. It will also be easier for us to present our arguments to the High Court."

Bar-On told Haaretz, "We managed to end the strike but we are still committed to continuing the talks. We know the crisis will not be solved by force, but by talking and reaching an agreement with the SSTA on reform."

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said that, "These are my teachers and we are their country. Now we must find the way to end the lack of trust between the sides."

Court has heavy heart

National Labor Court president Steve Adler wrote in his 43-page verdict that the court had decided to issue the injunctions "with a heavy heart."

The conclusion stemmed from the unusual circumstances of the conflict, which the sides couldn't conclude by consent, and in view of the huge accumulative damage caused to the students and education system. The ruling also took into account the "significant achievements in the teachers' work terms, although not all their demands had been met," he wrote.

Adler says his decision was based on the government's "explicit undertaking to make education a national priority and on the terms the teachers would get as part of the overall education reform."

"We accept the cabinet's multi-year plan to reduce the number of pupils per class and adding teaching hours... as a way to ensure the plan's implementation," Adler wrote.

He wrote that, "The state demonstrated a sincere and consistent desire to implement the reform in high schools, as well as adopting parts of the SSTA's plan." Yet, "Despite the progress in the negotiations, the SSTA did not alleviate its sanctions."

Adler also said that while the state could reduce the number of pupils per classroom and add teaching hours, there were also economic factors. In a strike of this kind, "Considerations in support of limiting the strike bear more weight. These considerations include the strike's continuation and the damage to the pupils, parents and education system."

Erez said the court ruling was "full of holes and mistakes. There is no need to be upset about the court's criticism of the SSTA. In its conduct toward us, the court has apparently become the state's lackey."