The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset Control Committee meeting on contract workers in the education system was cut an hour short on Monday, after the chair of the committee, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) scolded the Education Ministry for sending a junior representative who could not answer any of the question presented at the meeting.
Elharar accused the ministry of "disparaging behavior … on such a fundamental issue." Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, is threatening a general strike to address the issue of contract workers and said at the meeting that "the issue of contract worker teachers is one of the largest disgraces to the State of Israel." Lili Ben Ami, founder of the Coalition for Direct Employment in Education and a member of the broader National Coalition for Direct Employment, was at the meeting and later spoke with the Jerusalem Post about contract workers in the field of education.
From as far back as 2006, the Knesset has been asking the Education Ministry for figures on contract workers but there has been no response, including when the State Comptroller asked directly last year, Ben Ami explained.
The ministry, she said, simply doesn’t keep tabs on the facts and figures. The State Comptroller investigated on its own, she said, and found that 7% of teachers who teach core curriculum courses are contract workers.
"It's a disgrace," Ben Ami said of the fact that the State Comptroller had to conduct an independent investigation rather than getting the figures from the Education Ministry, the ministry that is in charge of the school systems and should, according to Ben Ami, know who is teaching in the schools.
Ben Ami said that there are some 23,000 contract workers teaching in schools – one out of every eight teachers in the school system.
The problem with hiring contract workers as teachers is multi-facted, according to Ben Ami. There is a direct harm to the contract workers themselves, as they have no recourse when dealing with working conditions and salary problems. Moreover, these teachers are only paid by the hour, leaving them jobless during summer months, and are often fired and rehired to allow for the companies that act as middle-men to avoid paying them full benefits, such as pension funds.
Ben Ami explained that in the case of teachers, the problem goes beyond the teachers themselves and leads to difficulties in the classrooms and harms the students.
Contract workers are often not obligated to sit in on staff meetings, which leads to a break in the communication regarding their students. These teachers are often not made aware of difficulties the students are facing, such as parents divorcing or social difficulties, which can lead to insensitivities in the classroom that harm the student and could have easily been avoided.
Ben Ami pointed out that contract workers are most common in enrichment classes, outside the core curriculum, such as drama, art, music, etc. and that the lack of communication between these teachers and the rest of the staff is particularly problematic.
Behavioral problems can be more prominent in these types of classes and, on the flip side, children who have difficulties in more academic subjects may flourish and shine in the more artsy classes. Not allowing for the staff to discuss the range of behaviors and successes of each student harms their ability to best work with students to fulfill their potential and overcome difficulties.
These problems are exacerbated by what Ben Ami calls the class system in the teachers' lounge. Contract workers are not part of the socially cohesive teachers groups that form in teachers' lounge, which means that information is not passed organically.
Ben Ami was outraged at the meeting on Monday to hear that the representative sent by the Education Ministry was new at her job and did not have any information available to answer questions.
Some 30 people, including activists, contract worker teachers, members of the student council, parents, and more, had attended the meeting, in hopes of being heard and making headway on the issue.
Despite the meeting that was ended early on Monday, Ben Ami is cautiously optimistic about the future of contract workers in the education system.
She said that the struggle of contract workers is one of the most difficult struggles but after years of fighting for the cause, Ben Ami said she is encouraged by the amount of attention the issue is receiving right at the beginning of the government's term.
Ben Ami pointed out that this is the third committee to discuss the issue this term, and there is a two hour discussion scheduled in the plenum, in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu, on Wednesday.
The follow up meeting in the Knesset Control Committee is scheduled for next week, on July 21, the same day Ben Ami is hosting a conference for contract workers in the field of education along with MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) and MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu).