Union says high school teachers to skip parties, Poland trips as wage flap ramps up

Secondary School Teachers’ Association met with backlash from teachers, students and treasury after announcing latest measures to pressure government for higher salaries

Illustrative: Keshet high school students take an examination in Jerusalem on May 20, 2019 (Courtesy Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Illustrative: Keshet high school students take an examination in Jerusalem on May 20, 2019 (Courtesy Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A major high school teacher union said Sunday its instructors would not attend graduation parties or school heritage trips to Poland, raising the stakes of an ongoing salary dispute, with a month to go before the final bell.

The Secondary School Teachers’ Association has been feuding with the Finance Ministry for increased wages for weeks. Talks have seemingly stalled, and last month the union attempted to call a nationwide single-day strike of 10th- and 11th-grade teachers but was stymied by a National Labor Court injunction.

In a letter sent to teachers Sunday, Secondary School Teachers’ Association head Ran Erez laid out the planned sanctions. These include teachers not attending  end-of-year parties for students, not participating in meetings to prepare for Holocaust education trips to Poland, and not accompanying the students for the trips, which are set to resume this summer after a three-year hiatus.

The Education Ministry said the union’s decision to target the trips to Poland was “disproportionate” and would cause “serious and irreversible harm to the students” as well as “the teachers and the opportunity they are given to lead their students on a unique journey that will have a great impact on them.”

Young Jewish Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade, touring former Nazi camps in order to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered. The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year before the programs were frozen by the COVID-19 pandemic and a diplomatic dispute between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

Teachers plan and lead students on the trip.

“Another round of negotiations led to no progress, and the Finance Ministry does not care,” Erez wrote.

He accused the treasury of taking advantage of the fact that teachers were reluctant to impede students as they study for end-of-year exams.

“They feel that the fact that we are at the end of the school year and during the matriculation period – which we do not wish to harm – is a reason to continue to belittle our claims and reject them,” he said.

Jewish students visit the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

In the coming days, Erez is expected to announce new measures in the campaign to pressure the Finance Ministry to raise teaching salaries, according to Hebrew-language media.

The base salary for high school teachers is currently NIS 8,500 ($2,333) per month, with the union demanding that it be raised to NIS 12,000 ($3,294) per month.

Students and teachers lashed out at the union for attempting to pressure finance officials at the expense of students’ education.

The national Parent-Teacher Organization blasted the union’s “lawlessness,” calling on “all the teachers who are members of the organization to reject this inappropriate directive and end the year properly.”

Israel’s National Student and Youth Council, which represents pupils in grades 7-12, wrote in a letter addressed to Erez that pupils would not allow him to “damage the memory of the Holocaust and use us as a tool in negotiations.”

“The decision of the teachers’ organization to cancel the trips to Poland after a long fight for their return is a fatal blow to the memory of the Holocaust among the youth, which forms the basis of unity in Israeli society,” the pupils’ organization wrote in a letter cited by Hebrew media.

Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary School Teachers’ Association, at the National Labor Court, August 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, who heads a nationwide umbrella group for local authorities, said in a letter to Erez that the “announcement about not holding graduation parties and not holding trips to Poland is crossing a red line and irreparably harming the students.”

“The local government will not stand by and will take all necessary steps to allow the students to finish the year with all the planned activities,” Bibas said.

He warned that his group, the Federation of Local Authorities, would petition the National Labor Court for injunctions against the threatened labor actions.

Education Minister Yoav Kish called on Erez and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to “immediately stop the serious harm to the students.”

The students, he said, “cannot be used as a tool in the negotiations between the teachers’ organization and the treasury.”

Smotrich must summon Erez “urgently after the passage of the state budget to reach an agreement,” said Kish, ahead of the expected passage of the budget ahead of a May 29 deadline

The ministry, Kish said, supports the ongoing negotiations and has pushed “as much as it can in recent months for a significant salary increase for teachers, but this cannot be done on the backs of the students.”

The union has held repeated limited strikes this school year. In March, 10th-grade teachers refused to show up for class until 10 a.m. to protest for higher wages. Earlier in the school year, a one-day “warning strike” strike was held at all high schools.

In April, the National Labor Court ordered high school teachers to release key test scores that had been withheld as part of a protest for higher wages, and prevented them from holding another one-day strike.

That same day, the teachers’ union rejected an offer by the Finance Ministry to gradually raise starting monthly salaries for high school instructors with a bachelor’s degree to NIS 10,000 ($2,745), and for those with a master’s degree to NIS 10,900 ($2,993), a proposal the union called humiliating and degrading.

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