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‘Stop destroying the education system’: Teachers to strike next week over wages

Educators to walk out early on Monday to protest salaries; Teachers Union chief warns of educators leaving the system, says students will end up paying the price

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

Teachers from schools around the country hold a protest, in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Teachers from schools around the country hold a protest, in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel’s Teachers Union, one of two major labor associations that represent teachers in the country, announced on Tuesday that it will be holding a half-day strike next week in protest of wages.

The strike, scheduled for May 30, will begin at 1 p.m. to allow teachers to make it to a protest in Tel Aviv that evening.

Most schools and kindergartens finish before 2 p.m. in any case, with younger students then attending afternoon programs.

The union said the strike will encompass all education institutions, including kindergartens and special education schools.

In response to the planned strike, Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton ordered to block the move with a court injunction. “No one can stop the education system from advancing,” she said, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Meanwhile, Israel’s High School Teachers Association and its teachers are not expected to take part in the protest, although they are involved in a separate dispute over planned reforms to matriculation.

In a letter addressed to teachers, the secretary-general of the Teachers Union, Yaffa Ben-David, warned that the gradual erosion of teachers’ salaries has put the entire education system at risk of collapse.

Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben-David attends a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Many educators have already left the system and many more intend to do so by the end of this year,” Ben-David wrote. “Join us in making our voices heard: Stop destroying the education system! Stop harming teachers!

“The serious shortage in teachers will eventually lead to disruptions in operating the education system and will mainly come at the expense of the students, who will suffer from a rapid turnover of teachers and principals — until classes will need to be halted for entire grades,” Ben-David said, blaming the Finance Ministry for withholding funding and warning of “shocking” and “severe” implications if the situation is left unchecked.

Ben-David has become known for her determined struggle to improve Israeli teachers’ salaries and benefits.

In April 2020, as the country was mostly on lockdown due to the pandemic, Ben-David insisted that teachers would not work during the month of July, going against directives from the Education Ministry that said the summer vacation would be shortened in order to make up for time lost. “We will not add a single day at our expense,” she insisted at the time.

Israeli teachers protest in front of the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2016, as they demand better pay and working conditions. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

While some criticized Ben-David for her uncompromising approach, others hailed her as a crusader justly defending the rights of the workers she represents.

According to a recent study conducted by Bar Ilan University, teachers in Israel get a third of the salary that teachers in Germany get, on average.

The study also claimed that Israel was at the bottom end of the scale compared to other OECD countries. It found that the dramatic wage gap did not only affect young teachers in the early stages of their careers, but also veterans, who have been in the system for 15 years and still earn a lot less compared to their colleagues in other developed countries.

Some, however, have argued that the data is misleading because it fails to consider various factors, including that Israeli teachers work fewer hours than the OECD average.

Other studies have indicated that while a gap definitely exists, it may not be as significant. A study published by the Knesset Research and Information Center in December 2020, showed for example that veteran teachers make on average 31% less than veteran teachers in Germany.

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