At least 20,000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Monday evening for higher pay and better working conditions in part of a series of actions led by the Israel Teachers Union.
Government and union officials are currently negotiating a new salary agreement as part of the upcoming state budget. The union has threatened to strike several times in recent days in an attempt to tip the scales in the talks.
“Our gathering together – teachers from Metula to Eilat, Jews and Arabs, right and left – is nothing short of a sound of alarm. The education system is bleeding to death. It is on the verge of collapsing,” said teachers union head Yaffa Ben David at the protest.
Ben David says Israel’s education system lacks some 8,000 teachers and assistants, particularly in kindergartens and elementary schools.
“We came here to say to the Israeli government – Enough! Help! Enough disrespect! Enough disengagement!” Ben David added.
At the heart of the tug-of-war lies planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the teachers union in addition to shrinking the pay gap between veteran and new teachers.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has called the current pay difference “unreasonable.”
“We can’t keep having it this way — where time spent in the job is the only parameter for raising one’s salary. We have to insert a parameter of competence, as well,” Liberman said at a press conference on Sunday.
The frail coalition to which Liberman belongs, however, may yet undermine his goals. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has threatened to vote against the budget unless the teachers’ demands are substantively met.
“Only the Education Ministry sets education policy. Without a significant improvement in teachers’ salaries – the state budget will not pass,” Shasha-Biton threatened, according to the Ynet daily.
Union manager Ben David has made the rounds in Hebrew media insisting that Israeli teachers are paid two-thirds less than the average for OECD countries, a commonly cited index of wealthy economies.
But an analysis by the Kan public broadcaster found that the gap is much smaller once a more nuanced breakdown — accounting for bonuses and added pay for experience — is made. Israeli teachers were actually paid as much or more per as the average teacher in OECD countries, the network concluded.
To further complicate matters, schools around the country are facing a significant teacher shortage.
At Tel Aviv’s Ahavat Zion, for example, parents were notified this week that the elementary school was short three teachers for next year. “I’ve never had such a hard time hiring,” Tali Tamri Geva told the Haaretz daily. “Instead of focusing on focusing on pedagogy, I find myself, along with many other managers, busy advertising jobs whenever possible. “Apart from lying on the floor and begging, I’ve done everything.”