Treasury, teachers set to resume talks, hoping to ensure school year opens

Key reported sticking point is proposal to give young teachers bonus to keep them in profession, with union warning this will cause mass exodus in the future

Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union 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)
Yaffa Ben David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union 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)

Talks were set to resume Sunday with the aim of averting threatened strike action by the Israel Teachers Union, which has said it will abort the start of the coming school year on September 1 if the Finance Ministry doesn’t reach an agreement over teachers’ terms of employment.

Union chief Yaffa Ben David was scheduled to meet at 12:30 p.m. with the commissioner of wages at the Finance Ministry, Kobi Bar-Nathan. Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber was also expected to participate in the talks, Channel 13 reported.

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 put into it.

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

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.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid is expected to pressure the finance and education ministers to reach a compromise among themselves so that the government can present a unified front against the union, the network reported.

Bar-Nathan told the Kan public broadcaster Sunday that figures show there is an increased dropout rate among younger teachers, which is why the Finance Ministry is 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.

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)

But Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton told Channel 13 on Saturday that the Finance Ministry, since June, had been trying to schedule talks that would last all the way through the end of August, which, she charged, showed they were not really seeking a quick end to the dispute.

She further 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 said. “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.

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

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 doesn’t change its approach.

She accused treasury 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.”

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

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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