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Schools to open late Sunday, with talks between teachers union, treasury deadlocked

Union chair Ben-David says Israeli leaders will soon find themselves ‘facing an army of fuming and frustrated parents’; Liberman accuses teachers of being unwilling to negotiate

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Yaffa Ben-David, left, speaks at a conference in Jerusalem on February 11, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90); Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yaffa Ben-David, left, speaks at a conference in Jerusalem on February 11, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90); Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Teacher’s Union said Friday that schools and kindergartens across the country will open late at 10 a.m. on Sunday as the ongoing dispute between the union and the Finance Ministry continues.

“If [alternative prime minister Yair] Lapid, [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Finance Minister Avigdor] 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,” said union chief Yaffa Ben-David.

Sunday’s partial strike will cover all kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools across the country but won’t include special education institutions. It comes after schools and kindergartens in the Tel Aviv area opened late on Thursday as well.

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 planned strike was decided on after Finance Ministry officials came to another meeting unprepared and without a proposed budget to meet its demands.

It comes a day after the union said that it was planning to hold a one-day strike next week. A decision has not yet been made on which day the strike will be called. It was not immediately clear if the late opening Sunday was instead of, or in addition to, the one-day strike.

Meanwhile, 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.

Earlier this week, the ministry said in a statement to Channel 13 that the union “is not prepared to significantly prioritize young teachers” or discuss other changes “to advance the education system.”

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)

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 10,500 ($3,077) 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. The Finance Ministry has reportedly agreed to raise the wages to about NIS 8,200 ($2,403). Other disagreements relate to the number of vacation days in schools, which Liberman has proposed to lower, in a bid to ease the pressure on working parents.

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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