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Teachers renew partial strike as union dispute with Finance Ministry drags on

Classes in Haifa area, except at high schools and special education institutions, don’t start until 10 a.m.; union chief says talks with Treasury ‘fruitless and not advancing’

An empty classroom at a school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hakerem on October 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An empty classroom at a school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hakerem on October 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Schools in the Haifa District of northern Israel opened late on Monday morning, with classes beginning at 10 a.m. as part of an ongoing teachers’ strike.

The strikes were held at preschools, elementary schools and middle schools. Classes at special education institutions and high schools began as scheduled.

Affected communities included: Or Akiva, Umm al-Fahm, Alona, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Binyamina-Giv’at Ada, Basma, Jisr az-Zarka, Jit, Daliyat al-Karmel, Zichron Yaakov, Zevulun, Hadera, Haifa, Tirat Carmel, Hof Hacarmel, Kfar Qara, Menashe, Ma’ale Iron, Nesher, Katzir-Harish, Rekhasim, Kiryat Motzkin, Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Tivon, Kiryat Ata, Kiryat Bialik, Fureidis, Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Arara and Isfiya.

Teachers have been striking across the country since last week as the Israel Teachers Union pushes for high salaries and better working conditions.

Schools were shuttered in the Jerusalem area and parts of central Israel and the West Bank on Sunday morning as part of the union’s campaign.

The teachers union plans to call a strike every day in a different part of the country until its demands are met; the school year concludes at the end of the month.

Government and union officials are negotiating a new salary agreement as part of the upcoming state budget.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, center speaks during a press conference with Ron Tomer president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, left, and Merom Schiff National Parents’ Council, ahead of the teachers’ union’s strike, held at the Ministry of Finance offices in Jerusalem, on May 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

At the heart of the tug-of-war are planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the teachers union, including allowing principals to fire staff without union intervention and shrink the pay gap between veterans and new teachers by setting wages according to performance, rather than years of experience.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has also proposed that the number of vacation days in the school system should be adjusted to come closer to the number of vacation days offered to workers, in a bid to ease the pressure on working parents.

After meeting Sunday with Treasury officials, union chief Yaffa Ben David said in a press release that no new offer was proposed on teachers’ salaries, while criticizing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as absent in the debate.

She told Kan public radio that Finance Ministry representatives have maintained their positions during the negotiations and said the union was “doing everything to complete a salary agreement.”

“These negotiations are fruitless and not advancing,” she said.

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)

Arik Kaplan, vice chair of the National Parent Leadership and chair of the Jerusalem Parents Association said there was broad support for the teachers among parents, but criticized the strikes, arguing they were “not the way” forward.

“We demand from the Education and Finance ministries and the Teachers Union: Leave the children out of the games,” he was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site.

Despite Liberman’s efforts to advance the reforms, they may yet be undermined by the frailty of the government coalition. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has threatened to vote against the national budget unless the teachers’ demands are substantively met.

Shasha-Biton threw her support behind the teachers in an online post on Wednesday, stating that the struggle for an increased salary is a “just and important cause.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Their cause is for everyone. It’s about the future of the country. It’s in the hands of finance officials to prevent disturbances by paving the road and accelerating negotiations immediately,” the minister wrote.

Ben David has made the rounds in the 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 than the average teacher in OECD countries, the network concluded.

To further complicate matters, schools around the country are facing a significant teacher shortage.

At least 20,000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv at the end of May for higher pay and better working conditions as part of the action led by the Israel Teachers Union.

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