(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Treasury Wage Director Eli Cohen decided on Wednesday to grant teachers a one-time payment two months ahead of schedule.
Cohen ordered a bonus of slightly more than one month's salary, meant to combat wage erosion, to be added to their next paychecks - a payment originally set for January 2008.
The move was originally approved only for the teachers from the National Teachers Union, all of whom have already signed on to the Education Ministry's reform plan. However, Cohen agreed to Histadrut head Ofer Eini's request on Wednesday evening to include the teachers from the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) as well.
At the same time, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On paid a visit to the protest tent outside his office and spent an hour discussing the education crisis with the teachers there. They invited him to the rally planned for Saturday night in Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin, and he said he would take them up on their invitation, the Finance Ministry said.
Meanwhile, Finance Ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav expressed his opinion on Wednesday that the dispute was not about whether the teachers deserved a raise, because it was clear to all that they did. Rather, the real question was what the teachers would give in return for the raise, he said.
The Finance Ministry was ready to agree to any solution that would give the teachers security and a raise, but only in return for coming on board with the reform, Ariav said - and on that point, there has been no real breakthrough.
Ariav also said he hoped Saturday's planned rally was not being used to hold up the negotiations.
"To stand in the square and look out at the gathered masses is a great feeling; it's very rewarding. But the children shouldn't be kept out of school for it," he said.
Meanwhile, 400 professors and senior lecturers filled an auditorium at Tel Aviv University to overflowing in protest of Education Minister Yuli Tamir's lack of involvement in answering their demands.
Prof. Tzvi HaCohen, the head of the Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) said at the protest that "the problem is with the education minister. At the beginning, she stood by our side, but when the powers that be at the Finance Ministry [spoke with her], she suddenly disappeared. I am surprised that the minister conforms to the orders of the lowest clerk at the Treasury, is complicit in spins and is trying to coerce us into signing snippets of paper. I clarify and repeat that we will not stop striking until we achieve our objectives."
Prof. Daniel Hershkovitz, head of the senior lecturers at the Technion, said, "We have expectations from the education minister - one of us. We are striking for 22 days and the education minister cannot make herself available for even one meeting? How can you surrender to the dictates of the clerks at the Treasury? This is the time to use the full power of your position, get into the thick of things and solve the crisis.
"They say we are lazy, that we only work six hours a week, and I ask the Treasury clerks - where does Israel's hi-tech come from? The scientists? The Nobel prize winners?" Hershkovitz demanded at the event. "From the halls of the Treasury? From the offices of the clerks?"
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