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Treasury, teachers no closer to inking salary deal, as school start looms

Talks set to resume on Monday after Lapid speaks with involved parties to try to speed up process, avert strike on September 1

Israeli teachers protest, demanding better pay and working conditions, outside a press conference of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli teachers protest, demanding better pay and working conditions, outside a press conference of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Marathon talks on Sunday aiming to avert threatened strike action by the Israel Teachers Union at the start of the upcoming school year failed to reach a conclusion, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid rebuffed, while attempting to intervene.

Treasury officials met with union officials at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem midday Sunday to try to put to bed a labor dispute stretching back to the last school year, with schools set to open in fewer than 10 days. Teachers are pushing for higher wages, saying most teachers are undercompensated.

However, the sides failed to make any progress, and were forced to schedule an additional meeting for the next day, according to Hebrew media reports.

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, rather than a system which would shift some of those raises onto newer teachers and those who excel at their work.

The Finance Ministry is proposing that new teachers get a 35 percent raise, while veteran teachers receive just a 3% hike. In addition, the ministry wants to convert five-to-10 teachers’ vacation days to Friday workdays, according to Channel 13.

“The emphasis of the Teachers’ Union is on seniority, and at the Finance Ministry the emphasis is on excellence,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday.

The union, which represents daycare, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers, is rejecting both proposals. 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’ time.

Lapid on Sunday spoke separately with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David, in an effort to work toward solutions toward the opening of the school year.

In addition, throughout the day, the prime minister discussed the situation with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and National Parents Association chair Merom Shiff.

 

Liberman was publicly resistant to the premier stepping in to deal with the crisis, suggesting that the move was political in nature — elections are scheduled for November 1 and parents unable to send their kids to school may take out their frustrations at the ballot box — and saying politicians should “leave the management of negotiations to professional ranks only.”

“I made it clear in a meeting with the prime minister and education minister that only the person in charge of salaries at the Finance Ministry is the one who manages negotiations on salary agreements,” he wrote on Facebook.

Liberman has conceded that salaries for new teachers must rise, but also wants to increase the number of day schools that are open and teachers who 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.

Kobi Bar-Nathan, commissioner of wages at the Finance Ministry, told the Kan public broadcaster Sunday that turnover among teachers has increased, with the Finance Ministry focusing on keeping them in the profession.

“We want do the things that are right for the system, even if they are less popular,” he said.

Shasha-Biton has accused the Finance Ministry of dragging its feet on reaching a deal until the last possible moment before school begins.

On Saturday, she accused treasury officials, including Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, of “not being familiar with the education system.”

“The treasury doesn’t care about pupils, or parents, or teaches,” she told Channel 13 news. “Each discussion looks the same as a month ago, or two months, or five months.”

Shasha-Biton urged Liberman to instruct senior ministry officials to end the dispute this week.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid meets with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, on August 17, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“This isn’t fair to the students,” she said.

The government has limited wriggle room with what it can offer the teachers. As a caretaker government, the attorney general has capped what the Finance Ministry can offer teachers to NIS 4 billion ($1.2 billion) in the lead-up to elections on November 1, according to Channel 12 news.

Last Thursday, Ben David warned that there will be “chaos” on the first day of the school year and that the union will strike if the Finance Ministry does not change its approach, accusing officials of “dragging their feet.”

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.

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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