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School opening imperiled as treasury accused of dragging out teacher salary talks

Education Minister Shasha-Biton says negotiations going too slow, days after union head threatens to call strike for start of school year next month

Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teacher's Union, at a protest of Israeli teachers demanding better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teacher's Union, at a protest of Israeli teachers demanding better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor negotiations between teachers and the Finance Ministry are not advancing fast enough, threatening the start of the school year in two weeks, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said Tuesday.

Shasha-Biton told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee that negotiations were not moving at a “serious pace,” days after the head of the Israel Teachers Union threatened to call a strike to block the planned opening of schools nationwide on September 1.

Shasha-Biton said current salary offers by the Finance Ministry for teachers were unsatisfactory and accused treasury officials of dragging out talks until the last possible moment before September 1.

“To offer a veteran teacher NIS 300 [$92] in addition to their gross salary is a mockery. You won’t convince me otherwise,” she said.

Finance Ministry representative Shmuel Applebaum rejected the charges of foot-dragging, but shared the minister’s bleak outlook.  “We are determined to reach an agreement as fast as possible, but we are not optimistic. We are not significantly advancing as we wanted,” he said.

Applebaum said the Finance Ministry was unwilling to give up on “important principles” despite the damage a strike could cause.

Despite the uncertainty regarding the start of the academic year, the Knesset committee okayed schools to begin charging fees to parents ranging from NIS 253 ($78) for kindergarten children, to NIS 1,372 ($420) for 12th graders.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends a meeting of her New Hope faction, at the Knesset,in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year was marred by a series of strikes organized by the Israel Teachers Union over a wage dispute with the Finance Ministry.

On Thursday, union head Yaffa Ben David threatened that teachers would go on strike and prevent schools from opening next month, in an interview with the Ynet news site.

Negotiations 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.

In comments made to Channel 12 news on Tuesday, a union official accused the Finance Ministry of wanting to raise some salaries by cutting those of senior educators.

The union is demanding that new teachers receive a starting salary of NIS 10,500 ($3,218) a month, and are also insisting on significant pay raises for more senior teachers.

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman launches the party’s campaign in Neve Ilan, ahead of the upcoming elections. August 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has conceded that salaries for new teachers must rise, but also wants to increase the number of days schools are open and teachers are working, to help parents otherwise unable to find childcare.

Liberman also wants to give school principals the ability to give raises to outstanding teachers in order to incentivize excellence within the profession.

The union is open to negotiating how much time teachers get off, but is demanding an agreement on salaries be inked before it will discuss incentive programs.

Tobias Siegal and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

 

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