Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman asked the State Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday for an injunction that would force teachers back to work at the start of the school year on September 1, despite stalled negotiations between the teachers union and the government.
Talks to solve a salary dispute between the ministry and the Israel Teachers Union have made little progress for months. Union head Yaffa Ben David has threatened to prevent schools from opening if an agreement is not reached, prompting Liberman to seek the extreme measure.
“We have been forced to contact the State Prosecutor’s Office and ask for an injunction so that the school year will begin without disruption,” Liberman said, adding that he hopes the Education Ministry will join the Treasury in its demand.
The two sides were scheduled to meet on Sunday morning, but it was not immediately clear if any progress was made during the round of negotiations. Liberman and Prime Minister Yair Lapid also held a meeting on Sunday to discuss the issue. The premier tweeted that he would “investigate the subject of the injunctions but request that the sides exhaust the negotiating process first.”
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton hit back at Liberman’s threat, accusing him of undermining the months-long discussions.
“Those who ask for an injunction, at a time when teams from all sides are convening for negotiations on agreements that will lead to the orderly opening of the school year, are proving that they aren’t interested in reaching a deal and aren’t invested in the future of the education system and the children’s future,” she said.
“This is a national crisis,” Shasha-Biton added. “It’s time to convene the government to solve it.”
Ben David called a possible injunction on teachers a “disgrace” in an interview with the Ynet news site on Sunday.
“We will respect any decision by the court, but it will not solve the existing problem in the education system,” she said, adding that “the teachers will be very angry if that is what is decided.”
As September 1 approaches, political leaders have taken an active role in the issue, with Lapid holding talks last week with Liberman, Shasha-Biton, Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David and National Parents Association chair Merom Shiff in an effort to find a solution to the months-long crisis.
Talks for a new agreement are said to be stuck over a union demand that a system determining salary hikes based on rank and seniority remain in place, rather than a system that would shift some of those raises to newer teachers and those who excel at their work.
The Finance Ministry is proposing that new teachers receive a 35 percent raise, while veteran teachers receive just a 3% hike.
Liberman’s plan also includes increasing the number of schooldays in a bid to help working parents. He also wants to provide more flexibility to school principals by allowing them to offer raises to outstanding teachers in order to incentivize excellence within the profession.
In addition, the Finance Ministry is seeking to match teachers’ vacation days with those of parents. In the interview with Ynet, Ben David argued against this effort: “It is impossible to right a wrong with a wrong. This can’t be at the expense of teachers.”
Liberman has publicly voiced opposition to the premier intervening in the crisis, suggesting that the move was political in nature. Elections are scheduled for November 1, and parents unable to send their children to school may express their grievances at the ballot box.
The Israel Teachers Union, which represents daycare, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers, has rejected all government proposals, accusing the ministry at one point of “manipulating the numbers” in its favor and deepening the crisis. Along with the Education Ministry, it has warned that the wage plan will result in a mass exodus of teachers in five to six years.
The government has limited wiggle room in what it can offer the teachers. As a caretaker government, the attorney general has capped what the Finance Ministry can offer teachers at NIS 4 billion ($1.2 billion) in the lead-up to elections.