Tamir reports progress in talks to end strike

SSTO rejects claim; strike to continue on Friday; Israel Cancer Association calls on union to cancel strike.

October 10, 2007 22:59
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Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Thursday that negotiations with the Secondary School Teachers Organization were progressing, Army Radio reported. According to Tamir, SSTO head Ran Erez had agreed to accept several clauses of the planned education reform. Meanwhile, SSTO sources rejected Tamir's claim, arguing that no progress had been made so far. Further meetings between Education Ministry and SSTO representatives were yet to be scheduled and the strike is expected to go into its third day on Friday. On Wednesday, the SSTO decided that the nationwide high school strike would not continue in Sderot and the Gaza periphery. The decision followed multiple requests from parents' organizations and MKs. "We believe students in the Gaza periphery should spend their day in the protected classroom rather than their unprotected homes," explained SSTO chairman Ran Erez. The Israel Cancer Association also called on the union to cancel the strike so as to allow the annual "Knock on the Door" fundraising drive to go ahead on Monday, as planned. Each year, the drive sends some 70,000 high school student and youth group members to knock on doors in their communities and ask for donations for the society, and has become a major source of funding for the private non-profit. The funds are used to purchase cancer treatment equipment for hospitals, fund research around Israel and the world and support the 120,000 cancer patients in Israel and their families. The strike of over 40,000 SSTO-member teachers comes in protest over failed wage negotiations to institute a collective wage agreement missing since 2001. While the SSTO blames the Finance Ministry, Finance and Education Ministry officials, along with local council heads, MKs and representatives of the Prime Minister's Office have called on the union to continue negotiations without striking. The SSTO on Wednesday continued to reject an Education Ministry offer of a return to work for the next five months, during which teachers would temporarily earn NIS 200 more per month, while negotiations for a comprehensive reform of wages and working conditions would take place. According to Education Ministry figures, the strike has closed down 1,200 high schools and over 40 percent of the country's junior high schools. Many junior high school teachers belong to the rival National Teachers Union and not to the SSTO. The NTU is not striking because it has already signed a wage agreement with the government, offering higher pay for more weekly work hours. An Education Ministry hotline continues to function between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, and can be reached at special phone number 1212-234567, while information is also available at the ministry website www.education.gov.il. According to ministry figures, some 1,200 parents and students called the hotline during the first day of the strike, while the Web site logged 40,000 entries.

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