Ministers optimistic they can reach deal to avert strike at start of school year

‘If the sides have good will… we can close this in a few hours,’ education minister says, as treasury officials reportedly insist nothing finalized yet

Screen capture from video of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaking with Channel 12, August 29, 2022. (Channel 12)
Screen capture from video of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaking with Channel 12, August 29, 2022. (Channel 12)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said Monday that ongoing negotiations between teachers and the Finance Ministry had progressed enough that an agreement could be reached within hours to head off a threatened strike on Thursday, the first day of school.

Shasha-Biton told Channel 12 news that she was optimistic an agreement would be reached by Tuesday.

“If there is goodwill by the sides and an intention to reach an agreement, it is possible to close things within a few hours,” she told the network.

“We are in a bit of a better position than we were a few days ago,” she said. “We hope that tomorrow during the course of the day we will reach an agreement.”

Talks to resolve a salary dispute between the ministry and the union have made little progress for months. Union head Yaffa Ben David has repeatedly threatened to prevent schools from opening as scheduled on September 1 if an agreement is not reached.

The education minister said she had spoken with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and that he too was hopeful that the dispute would soon be resolved.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem after a meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid about the negotiations with the Israel Teachers Union, August 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier in the day, Liberman also claimed the negotiations appeared to be approaching an agreement.

Despite the ongoing threat of a strike, Liberman said he had departed Sunday’s round of negotiations with a “feeling that there is movement and a good desire for resolution on all sides,” adding that he anticipated a conclusion to the saga on Monday or Tuesday.

Teachers Union officials told the Ynet news that it had always been possible to conclude the talks swiftly.

“Everything could be finished in hours, if only treasury officials would change their attitude and stop delaying progress. Right now they are trying to bring about revolutions instead of reaching a salary agreement,” an official was quoted as saying.

The conciliatory messages from Liberman and Shasha-Biton came a day after the two ministers publicly clashed over the situation.

Negotiations reached a boiling point on Sunday after Liberman said he had filed for an injunction with the state prosecution in an effort to force teachers back to work on September 1.

Shasha-Biton quickly 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.

Yaffa Ben David, head of the Israel Teachers Union, arrives for negotiations at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Talks for a new agreement were 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 three percent hike.

Liberman’s plan also includes increasing the number of school days 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.

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.

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