(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the secondary school strike entered its 25th day Tuesday, Education Minister Yuli Tamir met Histadrut Labor Federation's Chairman Ofer Eini to discuss the education crisis.
The two said that several plans to end the strike were proposed which would require further discussion. They were set to meet again later Tuesday.
The Histadrut threat, issued for the first time last week, to join the teachers and declare a general strike, was still in effect.
The National Labor Court has still not decided when to conduct a hearing
on a state petition requesting an injunction which would force teachers who are teaching matriculation subjects back to work.
Meanwhile, ORT schools have decided to pay all 4,500 teachers working for the organization in a show of solidarity towards their struggle, according to Israel Radio.
ORT Israel Director-General Zvi Peleg said that teachers were the most important asset of the education establishment and the every effort must be made to avoid causing them harm.
Chairman of the Secondary Schools Managers Organization in Tel Aviv, Dr. Dov Orbach, said that school managements would not stand idly by if an injunction is issued forcing the teachers back to work.
"Teachers cannot be forced to prepare students for matriculation exams or unwillingly come to work," Orbach told Israel Radio, adding that he did not discount the possibility that managers would not open schools even if an injunction is issued.
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres addressed the striking teachers' requests that he intervene in order to help their cause. "It is the government's job to take care of it, not the president's," he said in a joint press conference with prime minister Ehud Olmert after their meeting in Jerusalem.
However, the president added: "I'm touched by the teacher's situation, it is a central problem. If the government decides I should get involved, I will."
On Monday, during a committee meeting called to hear updates on both the lecturers' and the high school teachers' strikes, Finance Ministry Wage Director Eli Cohen tore into Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTO) head Ran Erez.
Cohen blasted Erez and the SSTO's administration and repeatedly denigrated the strike.
"The administration of the SSTO decided to wreck the negotiations and run away from the reform," he said. "They want a raise without the reform." he said.
"We had a big problem negotiating with [Erez] and the SSTO administration," he added.
Cohen called the strike "the strangest strike the Finance Ministry has seen," expressing doubt about its legitimacy.
He highlighted the differences between the negotiations with the Teachers Union and the SSTO.
"The Teachers Union came to an agreement without strikes to help implement the first education reform in 40 years," Cohen said. "And the teachers in the Teachers Union got their first NIS 4,000 raise last week on the first of the month."
Erez dismissed the need for back-to-work orders for students to take matriculation exams.
"The winter exams are not mandatory," he said. "There are also second and third opportunities to retake the exams. To say that court orders are needed for matriculation exams is excessive."
Erez said he would consider the committee's request to exclude the youth villages from the strike so that pupils there would have a positive place to spend their time rather than wandering the streets and getting into trouble.
Tamir began the meeting by citing the demand for an immediate 15 percent increase in teachers' salaries as the main sticking point at the moment.
"If there was willingness to compromise, then I would push for compromise on my side," she said.
Tamir said a full agreement would take two to three months to work out.
"I have no doubt that it [an agreement] is feasible, but it will take two to three months," she said.
However, the agreement with the Teachers Union could also be in jeopardy, Channel 2 reported later Monday. Union head Yossi Wasserman said his organization had not yet signed the agreement with the Finance Ministry. He outlined demands very similar to those being put forth by the SSTO.