Labor court halts Sunday’s planned high school teachers’ strike

Court rules short notice and method of announcing walkout for grades 10-11 over low wages is unlawful

Illustration of an empty classroom in a school in Mevaseret Zion, August 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustration of an empty classroom in a school in Mevaseret Zion, August 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The National Labor Court on Saturday night ruled that a union for high school teachers would be prevented from staging a one-day strike Sunday for grades 10 and 11 across Israel.

The Secondary School Teachers’ Association had announced it was holding the strike due to a lack of progress in longstanding negotiations with the Finance Ministry for increased wages. The Education Ministry subsequently declared that it would be filing an injunction request to the labor court.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, the court on Saturday said the protest would not be allowed to go ahead, citing the timing and method of the union’s announcement, which was published on Friday via the media and not made directly to the Education Ministry.

The court also noted that contrary to the union’s claims, negotiations with the Treasury were continuing and a meeting had been scheduled, the reports said.

The union said on Friday its decision to call the strike was “due to the lack of responsiveness of the ministries of finance and education to the minimum requirements after more than a year of fruitless negotiations.”

The base salary for high school teachers is currently NIS 8,500 ($2,343) per month, with the union demanding that it be raised to NIS 12,000 ($3,285) per month.

“I regret to see the lack of interest shown by Education Minister Yoav Kisch about what is happening in the education system — the lack of professional teachers and the disregard of Finance Ministry officials to the demands of high school teachers,” the union’s chairman Ran Erez said in a statement.

Kisch shot back with a statement of his own blasting Erez’s “repeated tactic” of calling strikes for Sunday late on Friday and insisted it would not succeed. He said those paying the price for the union strike were neither his ministry nor the Finance Ministry, but rather the students themselves.

Education Minister Yoav Kisch in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Finance Ministry said it was “surprised” by the union’s decision, noting that days earlier the National Labor Court had ordered the union to cease the sanctions it has been instituting to protest the salaries.

The ministry added that it held a meeting with the teachers union on Thursday and that the sides had been making progress toward an agreement — a claim the union vociferously denied.

The National Parents’ Council accused the teachers union of “rudely trampling on the graduation season and the future of students” and demanded it be more transparent about the reasoning behind the drastic step.

This is not the first time that the union has decided to strike this school year. Last month, 10th-grade teachers refused to show up for class until 10 a.m. to protest for higher wages. Earlier in the school year, a similar one-day “warning strike” strike was held at all high schools.

On Monday, the National Labor Court ordered high school teachers to release key test scores that had been withheld as part of a protest for higher wages.

Illustrative: Keshet high school students in Jerusalem on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Students have been waiting months for the results of preliminary exams to help prepare for matriculation exams, which start in the coming weeks. But teachers have refused to publish them, as they seek to pressure the Education Ministry for better wages for educators.

The court issued its decision at the conclusion of a four-hour hearing that was convened at the request of the Education Ministry and the Federation of Local Authorities, who urged the panel to compel the Secondary School Teachers’ Associations to release the scores.

The Education Ministry agreed not to use the scores until it reaches an agreement with the teachers’ union regarding wages, or until the court issues another decision on the matter.

The decision was hailed by Kisch, who claimed that it will allow students to receive their test scores and make way for talks between the Finance Ministry and the teachers’ union to reach a compromise.

But Erez said the verdict marked a sad day for his organization, “and also for parents and students.”

The union argued that withholding the grades is a legitimate action and not significantly damaging to students.

High school students take an exam in a school in Yehud, on January 20, 2022. (Yossii Zeliger/Flash90)

“The steps taken by the organization are minor, responsible and effective, and therefore should not be blocked,” a union official said during Monday’s National Labor Court hearing.

Earlier that day, the Teachers Union rejected an offer by the Finance Ministry to raise starting salaries for high school instructors to NIS 10,000 ($2,737) a month.

The union called the offer humiliating and degrading.

The Finance Ministry said in a statement that during negotiations last week to end a labor dispute over wages and terms of employment, it had proposed a plan that would eventually start new teachers with a bachelor’s degree at a monthly wage of NIS 10,000 ($2,736), while those with a masters degree would earn NIS 10,900 ($2,983). According to the ministry, the offer is NIS 1,500 ($410) more than it had suggested in the past.

The raises would go into effect gradually, meaning teachers would start off at NIS 9,099 ($2,490) and NIS 9,952 ($2,724) in September, the Treasury said.

The ministry called it a “detailed and respectable” proposal adding, “We are sorry that the teachers’ organization continues to harm the students.”

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