Treasury, Teachers Union Trade Blows as Strike Moves Into Day 2

The Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA) is continuing its countrywide strike of all classes from the seventh through the twelfth grades. The ministries of finance and of education, however, have announced the start today of intensive meetings with officials from the union, "who represent most of the educators in the state of Israel." The union will not strike tomorrow or at the start of next week in order not to disrupt Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies.

"The Education Ministry, not the Finance Ministry, should be the one to hold negotiations with the teachers," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said yesterday. "In a proper state, a budget framework would be set and we would be conducting the discussions with the teachers. Instead, we and the unions are sent to the treasury, which is unwilling to specify the exact amount allotted to the wage agreements and is, on top of that, attempting to introduce its agenda into the talks. It doesn't matter what the topic of the meeting is, they always bring up teacher dismissals," Tamir said.

According to a Finance Ministry statement, "The Israeli government is committed to working together with the Israel Teachers Union (ITU) to lead a comprehensive and agreed-upon reform of the education system, in addition to preparing the ground for improving the status and working conditions of teachers and substantially increasing teachers' pay." The treasury also said that while it and the Education Ministry has already reached several important agreements with the ITU, "Unfortunately, and for irrelevant reasons, the SSTA leadership is harming the chances of its members to enjoy the benefits and changes that ITU members are enjoying."

Treasury officials yesterday criticized SSTA Chairman Ran Erez for his "showboating media appearances and his threats to hamper the matriculation exams combined with absurd proposals to delay the military induction of 12th-graders" as "nothing but acrobatics designed for the union's own needs."

"The treasury's behavior is unsurprising," Erez said. "When they don't want to supply the goods, they shift to the 'divide and rule' method between us and the ITU. The treasury is trying to signal to other trade unions to wait until the Histadrut labor federation reaches an agreement over cost-of-living increments, but such an agreement will only perpetuate the existing gaps between the wages of teachers and those of other state employees."