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Schools nationwide open late as teachers union feuds with Finance Ministry

Classes for 2 million students start at 10 a.m. as educators carry out partial strike; Finance Minister Liberman says he believes a deal is on its way

Students arrive at school in Modiin, central Israel, on January 30, 2022. (Flash90)
Students arrive at school in Modiin, central Israel, on January 30, 2022. (Flash90)

Classes for around 2 million children opened late at 10 a.m. on Sunday as teachers went on strike due to a salary dispute between their union and the Finance Ministry.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Saturday night that he believed the two sides would reach an agreement, as talks remain deadlocked.

Sunday’s partial strike covered all kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools across the country but didn’t include special education institutions.

The nationwide strike came after teachers carried out a series of 2-hour strikes in different areas of the country last week.

Announcing the strike on Friday, Israel Teacher’s Union chief Yaffa Ben-David said, “If [alternative prime minister Yair] Lapid, [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and Liberman don’t wake up quickly, they’ll find themselves without an education system and facing an army of fuming and frustrated parents angry by their disrespect and inability to manage a simple crisis.”

The union claimed in a statement that Sunday’s strike was the result of “the disrespect and disregard” of Israel’s “bleeding [education] system that requires a lifeline immediately.”

The union also said that the strike was decided on after Finance Ministry officials came to a meeting unprepared and without a proposed budget to meet its demands.

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

The Israel Teacher’s Union has been attempting to push forward its struggle for higher wages as the school year comes to a close this month. Classes for some grades end on Monday, while others end later in June. To make the most of their remaining time, the teachers may carry out a full-day strike sometime in the next week, Ynet reported.

Liberman has said that the ministry supports raising teachers’ salaries but has claimed that the union was only making demands and was not showing a willingness to compromise and hold constructive negotiations.

Liberman said on Saturday that the two sides needed to come to an agreement on the issues of teachers’ vacations and bonuses, which he said the union didn’t want to discuss.

“It cannot be that they’re coming to me in the negotiation room and the first thing they’re doing is asking to take these two topics off the table,” Liberman said at a cultural event in Beersheba.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of Finance offices in Jerusalem, ahead of a teachers’ union’s planned strike, clarifying what the Finance Ministry demands in the negotiations with the union, May 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He voiced optimism about the talks and appreciation for teachers, saying, “I believe we’ll come to an agreement and we’re doing everything to get there.”

“In the education system, the most important ingredient is teacher quality — if you have a good teacher you get good students,” he said.

At the heart of the tug-of-war lies planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the Teachers Union, including allowing principals to fire staff without union intervention and shrink the pay gap between veterans and new teachers by setting wages according to competence, as opposed to experience.

Liberman has also proposed 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.

The union is demanding that new teachers earn a monthly salary of NIS 10,000 ($2,981) as well as a meaningful increase in experienced teachers’ salaries. According to the Ynet news site, some longtime teachers are only earning NIS 7,500 ($2,235) a month.

Last month, Ben-David warned that the gradual erosion of teachers’ salaries has put the entire education system at risk of collapse.

“Many educators have already left the system and many more intend to do so by the end of this year,” Ben-David said at the time.

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