Minister says government will meet on matter if not resolved

Teachers union chief signals optimism in talks to avert strike, but gaps remain

As school year meant to start Thursday, Yaffa Ben David says aim is to iron out details quickly, with significant hurdles cleared; sides still at loggerheads over vacation days

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union, arrives for negotiations at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 30, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union, arrives for negotiations at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 30, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David said Tuesday that while progress has been made in talks with the Finance Ministry on a labor agreement to avert a strike, gaps still remain with less than 48 hours until the scheduled start of the school year.

Talks to solve the wage dispute have been held on and off for the past few months, with Ben David repeatedly threatening strike action that would stop schools and kindergartens from opening on Thursday if a deal is not reached.

Ben David told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday that disagreements over the introduction of salaries based on excellence at the discretion of school principals have been resolved.

She said the two sides have also agreed on the shortening of the dismissal procedure for teachers and limited contracts for individual educators in exceptional circumstances.

Other issues surrounding shortened hours for working parents and older teachers were dropped from the negotiating agenda, she said.

The union chief took a relatively softer tone toward Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, with whom she has publicly clashed in recent months, telling Kan that “he understands our needs and approach.”

“We will really sit to discuss the divisions today in order to resolve this as quickly as possible,” she added.

Kindergarten teachers protest as they demand better pay and working conditions at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ben David’s deputy Edna David also confirmed to Army Radio on Tuesday that progress on “essential issues” had been made in discussions a day earlier, and expressed hope that school would start as scheduled on September 1.

However, Kan reported that while agreements on technical issues had been reached on Monday, the two sides were still at odds over vacation days.

The Finance Ministry is seeking to bring the number of vacation days that teachers receive closer to the number received by workers in other sectors of the economy, in an attempt to reduce pressure on working parents. The ministry is therefore demanding educational staff give up six vacation days in exchange for some Fridays off work, according to Kan.

The report said that the union is willing to give up the days immediately following Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot — known as Isru Chag — as well as Lag B’Omer, in exchange for time off between the holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

Tensions between the two sides peaked on Sunday after Liberman said he had requested that the state prosecution grant an injunction to force teachers to return to work on September 1.

However, despite the ongoing threat of a strike and the legal warning, Liberman sounded optimistic after a round of negotiations on Sunday, noting that there was a “feeling that there is movement and a good desire for resolution on all sides,” and added that he anticipated a conclusion to the saga before schools open.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem after a meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid about the negotiations with the Israel Teachers Union, August 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton also expressed hope on Monday that an agreement would be reached. “If there is goodwill by the sides and an intention to reach an agreement, it is possible to close things within a few hours,” she told Channel 12.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper told Army Radio on Tuesday that he supported government intervention if the disputes were not solved by the end of the day so that schools can open, but was against efforts to pursue an injunction.

He said the government would meet on the matter if it were not resolved in the coming hours.

Culture Minister Chili Tropper in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

In contrast, the National Parents Association said in a statement that it would join efforts to impose a legal order on teachers to force them to return to work, and blasted union threats of a strike.

“The use of the strike as a weapon is inefficient and it’s clear that a strike will not help,” the organization said.

In talks over a new salary agreement, the Finance Ministry has proposed that new teachers receive a 35 percent raise, while veteran teachers receive just a three percent hike.

Liberman is also pushing to provide more flexibility to school principals by allowing them to offer raises to outstanding teachers in order to incentivize excellence within the profession.

The Israel Teachers Union, which represents daycare, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers, accused the ministry at one point of “manipulating the numbers” in its favor and deepening the crisis. Along with the Education Ministry, it has warned that the wage plan will result in a mass exodus of teachers in five to six years.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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