Teachers union chief predicts ‘chaos,’ school year not opening due to wage dispute

Yaffa Ben David says the way things are going in talks with Treasury, strike action is inevitable; vows Finance Ministry will fail in effort to prevent labor action

Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union, speaks at a conference of the Federation of Local Authorities in Ganei Tikva, August 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union, speaks at a conference of the Federation of Local Authorities in Ganei Tikva, August 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel Teachers Union chief Yafa Ben David predicted that if a standoff with the Finance Ministry over wages continues, the coming school year won’t begin as scheduled on September 1.

At a Federation of Local Authorities conference to prepare for the coming school year held in Ganei Tikva, Ben David said efforts by the Treasury to prevent a strike via a court order will fail.

“There will be chaos,” she warned, if negotiations fall apart. “The way things are now, the school year will not start.”

She accused Finance Ministry officials of “dragging their feet” and being “a bunch of men who think they get to decide what will be. They are divisive and causing conflict.”

Negotiations for a new agreement are said to be stuck over a union demand that a system determining salary hikes based on rank and seniority remain in place. Some charge that the current seniority-based payment system discourages many promising young teachers from continuing in the profession, since it means their remuneration doesn’t depend on the quality of their teaching and on the effort they invest in it.

But Ben David said a Treasury offer the day before to add NIS 400 ($123) to senior teachers’ monthly salaries was an attempt to deceive teachers and deny them their dues.

She said she hoped that Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s involvement will bring about a “fair solution.” Lapid spoke with Ben David earlier in the day and also met with the education and finance ministers the day before.

The Finance Ministry responded in a statement saying it was waiting for Ben David to attend a 12 p.m. meeting it had scheduled with her, Channel 13 reported.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton earlier told the conference of her dismay at Finance Minister Avidgor Liberman for presenting the Treasury offer at a press conference even as negotiations were still ongoing.

“I was shocked when the Treasury, just after the meeting with the prime minister, came out and said it was a final proposal,” Shasha-Biton said. “Anyone saying it was a final proposal had not come [to talks] in good faith.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks at a conference of the Federation of Local Authorities ahead of the opening of the school year in Ganei Tikva, August 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Local authorities federation chief Haim Bibas said his group also backs the teachers.

“We believe that in the end we need to take care of teachers’ salaries,” he said. The treasury is just talking nonsense. This is a big failure by Finance Ministry.”

Shasha-Biton said Wednesday after meeting with Lapid and Liberman she believes that if all the sides come with good intentions, an agreement can be reached. She added that if no deal is reached by Sunday she intends to demand an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the matter.

Shasha-Biton has previously said salary offers by the Finance Ministry for teachers were unsatisfactory and accused Treasury officials of dragging out talks until the last possible moment before September 1 to threaten the start of the school year.

Channel 12 reported Wednesday that already earlier in the week the Finance Ministry asked the state prosecution to prepare a court order prohibiting strike action at the start of the school year.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At a press conference on Wednesday at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, along with Finance Ministry official in charge of salaries, Kobi Bar-Nathan, Liberman presented the treasury’s full proposal for a wage agreement with the Teachers Union, acknowledging that any deal signed with teachers will immediately spark similar wage demands from other unionized sectors.

The Teachers Union, which represents daycare, kindergarten, and junior school teachers, responded to the offer by saying that “the vague proposal presented today to the public by the treasury is not familiar to us and wasn’t presented to us during the negotiation meetings held all week.”

The conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year was marred by a series of strikes organized by the Teachers Union over a wage dispute with the Finance Ministry.

Liberman has conceded that salaries for new teachers must rise, but also wants to increase the number of days schools are open and teachers are working, to help parents otherwise unable to find childcare. He further wants to allow school principals the ability to give raises to outstanding teachers in order to incentivize excellence within the profession.

The union is open to negotiating how much time teachers get off, but is demanding an agreement on salaries be inked before it will discuss incentive programs.

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