Teachers resume strike after meeting with treasury yields no results

Government offers NIS 8,600 as starting wage for new teachers, small monthly raise for experienced teachers; union deems offer ‘ridiculous’

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

Illustrative: An empty classroom at Cramim school in Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem, on October 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: An empty classroom at Cramim school in Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem, on October 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s Teachers Union announced Monday evening a nationwide strike on Tuesday, accusing the Finance Ministry of “taking advantage” of the union’s “good intentions.”

The full-day strike will cover kindergartens, elementary schools, and middle schools. High schools and special education institutions will operate as usual.

According to a statement issued by a Teachers Union spokesperson, the Finance Ministry has refused to offer more than NIS 8,600 ($2,513) as a starting wage for new teachers and only agreed on a small monthly raise for experienced teachers.

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).

The strike announcement came after the union and the ministry seemed to reach significant understandings on Sunday, with schools opening normally on Monday.

Union chief Yaffa Ben-David said Sunday that the ministry had “made a concrete offer [for increasing teachers’ salaries],” but noted that there were still “significant” gaps between the union and the ministry.

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

But despite her seemingly optimistic meeting Sunday with the director of salary and employment agreements at the Finance Ministry, Kobi Bar-Nathan, Ben-David accused the ministry on Monday of beating around the bush, and said such an approach could lead to devastating outcomes.

“Unfortunately, the treasury has taken advantage of our good intentions to stop the strike and has held futile meetings,” Ben-David charged. “The offers they proposed are disrespectful to the teaching profession and will lead to the collapse of the education system.”

According to the union, the ministry has “become entrenched” in its position and is refusing to increase experienced teachers’ salaries by more than a few hundred shekels.

The Teacher Union said it “firmly refused” the offer, which includes “no real solution for teachers.”

Ben-David added: “We have been negotiating with treasury officials for over six months and the only offer they have put on the table is simply ridiculous. The officials don’t care about anything. Not about education, not about the students, and not about their parents. We warn again that despite our many attempts and goodwill gestures such as freezing the strike, the treasury is insisting on not solving the crisis, and is leading Israel to chaos during the next school year as well.

“I call again on Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to personally intervene in the negotiations.”

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 Finance Ministry has accused the union of “harming students and parents,” by striking “moments before the school year ends.”

The ministry rejected the union’s claims of holding “futile meetings” and insisted it was “working day and night to reach an agreement that is good for the teachers, the students, the parents, and the principals, while remaining within the framework of the guidelines provided by the attorney general.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has instructed the Finance Ministry to hold negotiations with a limited budget, according to treasury sources cited by the Walla news site, so as not to limit the next government, considering that the current Knesset is in the process of dispersal, and the country may soon head to the polls for the fifth time in four years.

Moreover, the Finance Ministry has reportedly said that according to its policy, agreements do not buy money, and wage agreements are meant to improve the quality of service provided.

“If we offer higher salaries without receiving changes that benefit the system, it may set a precedent for other industries the ministry needs to sign wage agreements with,” the unnamed official told Walla.

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. The ministry said Ben-David was not willing to compromise enough during Monday’s meeting, which is why no agreement was reached.

Finance Minister and Israel Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 27, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, Liberman said during a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party that the ongoing negotiations with the Teachers Union are “complicated,” adding that “like in every round of negotiations there are ups and downs, but I hope that we can reach middle ground within a reasonable timeframe and sign a new agreement, a full one and not a partial or temporary one. Otherwise, there’s no point in wasting time and money.”

Teachers have been striking on and off for weeks, 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.

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