The Israel Teachers Union held a full-day strike on Wednesday, shuttering kindergartens and elementary schools, and leaving parents with the headache of what to do with the some 1.5 million children who were stuck at home.
The daylong strike came after educational institutions had, for a number of days, been opening their doors two hours late as the teachers union piled pressure on the Finance Ministry in a dispute over wages and working conditions.
Though many parents said they support the union’s campaign for higher wages, some felt they were being punished and lamented the impact on their children.
Special education institutions opened as usual on Wednesday. The strike will not affect students in grades 6 and up, who ended the school year on Monday.
Head of the National Parents Council Merom Shiff criticized the teachers union for holding a strike even as the Finance Ministry said it intends to continue negotiations despite the planned dissolution of the Knesset.
Shiff told the Kan public broadcaster, “There are hardly any gaps between the treasury and the Histadrut [Labor Federation]. If the finance minister says he is going into intensive negotiations despite the political situation, then what reason is there for a strike today, if on Sunday they are starting talks?”
Amid a coalition crisis, the government was set to begin the process on Wednesday to disperse the Knesset, triggering general elections to be held later in the year.
Afternoon programs, which run from 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. till 4:30 p.m. in schools and kindergartens, were to operate as usual.
Some local authorities found ways around the strike by expanding those programs so that children already registered would be taken care of all day, or by having teaching assistants run kindergartens. Kindergarten assistants are not part of the union and are employed by the municipality rather than the Education Ministry.
But many parents were left without a solution for taking care of their children on a workday.
“I have work and I don’t know what to do,” Avi Sarusi, head of the Lod city parents council and a member of the National Parents’ Council, told the Ynet news site. “We don’t have a grandma. At this rate, we will have to adopt a temporary grandmother who will agree to be with our children.”
Sarusi said that he supports the teachers’ campaign but lamented that “in the end, they are punishing us.”
“There is a limit to what is still in good taste,” Sarusi said. “We meet with the finance minister and fight for the rights of teachers, kindergartens, and assistants, and then they harm those who fight on their behalf.”
An immigrant mother of two young children said she has no close family to help her take care of the kids.
“I have no choice but to be with the children,” Talya Yaakov, a mother of two children aged 6 and 3, told the Walla news website. “I feel like I am suffocating.”
“I can’t believe we are going through this again after two years of the coronavirus, quarantines, and lockdowns,” said Yaakov, who immigrated 11 years ago from the US. “This is a circus, and a punishment for the children.”
A mother of five from Bnei Brak, identified only as Rachel, told Ynet that the strike would be ineffective and only turn parents against the teachers.
“The teachers’ campaign needs to be done in other ways, because this causes the parents to hate the teachers and won’t achieve the goal,” she said. “Things should be done through dialogue and legislation, and not by punishing the students and the parents.”
Schools are set to end the academic year next week.
The teachers union has recently been holding two-hour strikes at the start of the school day, causing classes to begin later than usual.
At the heart of the current dispute lie planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the Teachers Union, including allowing principals to fire staff without union intervention, and shrinking the pay gap between veteran and new teachers.
“We will continue with the sanctions until the Finance Ministry puts a concrete offer on the table,” union chief Yaffa Ben David said in a letter to teachers on Tuesday. “We will continue to fight for our rights and for raising the salaries of all of you.”
The Finance Ministry said in a statement responding to the announcement of the strike that “the conduct of the teachers’ union at the expense of the parents and students at this time is not clear to us at all.”
The ministry said that it will “continue to insist on an agreement to improve the teachers’ wages, that will bring relief for parents and the economy by coordinating vacations [of students with their parents’], and that promotes excellence.”
Shortly before Tuesday’s announcement, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman met with leaders of the National Parents’ Council. He reiterated his support for adjusting the number of vacation days in schools to make it similar to the number of vacation days offered to workers in other fields, in a bid to ease the pressure on working parents.
“Without matching the vacation schedules and rewarding excellence, there is no point in any agreement,” Liberman said, according to the Ynet news site.
The parents’ council said it supported higher pay for teachers, but slammed the union for “calling wildcat strikes at the height of talks that were set to advance.” It urged the Finance Ministry to petition for a court injunction against the strike.
An unsourced Channel 12 News report Tuesday said that the two sides have reached an agreement but that the Finance Ministry is delaying signing as it first wants to reach a broader agreement with the national Histadrut Labor Federation.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton told Army Radio that her ministry’s officials are ready to set a date for inking a deal at the end of August but that the treasury is dragging things out “as they are used to doing” and that they “are waiting till the last minute.”
The union is demanding that new teachers earn a monthly salary of NIS 10,000 ($2,981), as well as a substantial increase in experienced teachers’ salaries.