The Israel Teachers Union announced Tuesday that it was calling off its strike and that classes would take place in kindergarten, elementary and middle schools on Wednesday and Thursday, the last two days of the school year.
The union said it was ending the strike because Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman stated earlier in the day that there was no legal impediment to the treasury signing a new salary agreement with the teachers.
On Monday, the union announced it was staging another strike on Tuesday because the Finance Ministry’s offer to raise starting salaries for teachers to NIS 8,600 ($2,500) per month was inadequate and “shames the teaching profession.”
Liberman spoke earlier on Kan public radio and said that despite the imminent dissolution of the Knesset, following which the government will hold only interim powers, his ministry would still be empowered to sign an agreement with the teacher’s union.
“This is a change that allows us to return to discussions together with representatives of the finance and education ministries until we find a resolution,” said Yaffa Ben David, head of the Israel Teachers Union.
During his interview, Liberman denounced the teachers’ strike, describing it as “brutally coercive behavior” and an attempt by the union to “flex its muscles” during its last opportunity before the school year ends on Thursday.
The union is demanding that new teachers receive a starting salary of NIS 10,500 a month, and are also insisting on significant pay raises for more senior teachers.
Liberman has conceded that salaries for new teachers must rise, but is also insisting on changing the way teachers take vacation in a way that will leave parents with fewer working days on which their children have no school.
Liberman also wants to give school principals the right to raise the salaries of outstanding teachers so as to incentivize excellence within the profession.
A source close to Liberman noted that the ministry is also still demanding changes to the arduous and lengthy process of firing underperforming teachers, adding that an agreement will not be reached unless these issues are addressed.
The union is willing to discuss the issue of adapting the vacation system, but has until now refused to talk about the program to incentivize teachers until an agreement is reached on the basic salary of all teachers.
Robi Naon, a ninth grade teacher at the Katzir School in Holon and a leading activist in the union’s demands for raises, said Finance Ministry officials leading the negotiations were too young and inexperienced to deal with the issue adequately and called for Liberman or Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid to take over.
Naon said the officials had not shown any intention of improving their offer and accused them of making disparaging remarks about the teaching profession.
“If you invest in education then the economy itself will flourish. But if you see teachers as just babysitters, as the ministry does, then you’re damaging a strategic asset and the future of Israel. The ministry officials need to appreciate and respect the teaching profession, not belittle it,” he said.