'Finance Ministry has finally made a concrete offer'

Schools open as usual Monday as labor talks with treasury make progress

Softening tone, union chief says she will meet ministry officials to try bridge remaining ‘significant’ sticking points in wage dispute

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

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)

Israel’s Teachers Union said on Sunday that schools would open normally on Monday after talks with the Finance Ministry advanced significantly during a meeting on Sunday evening.

Teachers have been striking on and off for over a week, as they fight for higher wages and better working conditions. The sanctions have wreaked havoc across the Israeli education system, throwing the last several days of the school year into confusion and disarray, with parents pressuring both sides to reach a deal.

“The Finance Ministry has finally made a concrete offer [for increasing teachers’ salaries],” union chief Yaffa Ben-David said Sunday, after meeting with Kobi Bar-Nathan, director of salary and employment agreements at the Finance Ministry.

Ben-David clarified, however, that there were still “significant” disagreements between the union and the ministry, but was hopeful they could be overcome.

“We decided to meet again tomorrow and try to bridge the gaps,” she said.

The comments marked a shift in tone by Ben-David, who earlier this month accused ministry officials of coming to meetings “unprepared” and accusing Israeli leaders of ignoring Israel’s “bleeding [education] system.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, in turn, had said the union was only making demands and was not showing a willingness to compromise, as negotiations seemed to be deadlocked.

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)

But on Friday, teachers returned to the classroom after striking for two full days, at the request of Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton.

While agreeing to freeze the strike, Ben-David warned that the union would not hesitate to “renew the fight,” if an understanding was not reached within days.

The union said in a statement that dozens of teachers and supporters were rallying outside the home of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, set to take over in the coming days as prime minister, “to clarify that instructors won’t rest until the crisis is dealt with.”

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

View of an empty school at in Tel Aviv, during a strike by the Teachers Union, June 19, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“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.

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. The Finance Ministry had previously 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.

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