A new conflict may be looming between the Jerusalem municipality and some of Jerusalem's high school teachers. Several hundred teachers, who belong to an independent organization of teachers, are demanding that the municipality reimburse them for a tax deduction which, they claim, should not have been deducted from their salaries in the first place. According to attorney Dror Gal, who represents the Association of High School Teachers, the municipality has illegally deducted NIS 240 every month from the teachers' salaries, over a period of six months. Says Gal, "The money was included in the salaries budget paid by the Ministry of Education, but the municipality just put its hand into the teachers' pockets without any permission." In the teachers' names, he is now demanding that the money be reimbursed and is threatening to "use all the means available according to law" to guarantee that it is reimbursed. The roots of the issue date back more than three years. At that time, at the peak of the intifada, the government imposed a special tax on all the state employees, known as "a growth encouragement tax" (mas idud ha-tzmiha). The tax was determined according to various pro-rated criteria, and, for most teachers, came to a deduction of NIS 240 a month. As the economic situation improved, the government decided to stop collecting the tax, effective June 30, 2005. But it took an additional six months before the city of Jerusalem, which employs the teachers for the Education Ministry, stopped deducting the sum from the teachers' pay checks. Explains Tzion Dahan, head of the municipal employees' union: "In June 2005, the municipality had already begun its rehabilitation program, which was approved by the government, the employees' organizations and the muncipality. The rehabilitation plan stipulated that the tax would be collected for another six months. Says Gal, "The agreement regarding the rehabilitation plan was signed with the municipality's employees' organization. The teachers belong to another, separate organization, which is not part of the plan and this agreement." Therefore, he argues, the plan's decisions and provisions do not apply to them. Furthermore, he says, the money that the municipality deducted from the teachers' salaries was not forwarded to the government, but rather went into the municipal coffers. "This is a clear case of taking money that doesn't belong to you." "This is not correct," concedes a high school teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of her position. In the past, we were employees of the Education Ministry. Today, we are municipal employees, so if the municipality has a rehabilitation plan, it applies to us, too." Dahan argues, "They [the teachers] cannot rejoice with us when the news is good and declare that they belong to a different family when the times are hard." Education Ministry officials tend to view teachers as municipal employees and a source at the Ministry stated that as far as he is concerned, "it's not the Ministry's business." The Ministry spokesperson declined to respond to this report. Although neither Gal nor the teachers are speaking yet of "harsh steps," they have unofficially made it clear that a strike or walk-out "is not an impossible eventuality." Yet it is clear that not everyone agrees. Said a high-school principal who is a member of the High-School Teachers' Association, "We had a meeting. I said that in my view, there is no case, especially since the tax deduction was stopped from December 2005. I know I am not alone. People prefer to let it go and see what happens. After all, if the attorney wins the case, that will mean some 1500 shekels back into one of their coming payrolls. It can't be bad." The municipal spokesman says that in the framework of the rehabilitation plan of the municipality, the tax was deducted according to law. "The agreement was signed in accordance with all the parties involved," concluded the spokesman.

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