Teachers strike expected to go ahead

Meeting between Tamir, SSTO head ends without agreement; Bar-On reportedly refuses to meet him.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
October 5, 2007 07:58
2 minute read.
Teachers strike expected to go ahead

no school 298.88 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Heads of the Secondary School Teachers Organization will meet on Sunday afternoon to decide whether to launch a strike in the middle of next week, with union leaders flatly predicting the strike will go forward. Education Minister Yuli Tamir met with SSTO chairman Ran Erez in Givatayim Friday morning in an attempt to avert the strike. Though a Tamir representative described the meeting as "positive, a good conversation," it concluded without agreement over the strike. "These were not negotiations, but a meeting of professionals regarding issues of importance to the education system," said the representative, downplaying expectations fueled by remarks from inside the SSTO that the meeting could have prevented a strike. The SSTO has been launching on-and-off strikes, shutting down alternating sections of Israel's secondary education system, since December 2006 over what it called "drawn out" negotiations with the Finance Ministry. The SSTO has sought a collective wage agreement, missing since 2005, that would grant teachers a more favorable wage scheme and a larger number of early retirement packages. According to the union's figures, the previous wage scheme, currently still in place for high school teachers, sees the starting salary hovering at around NIS 2,800 per month, forcing new teachers to bring their salaries up to minimum wage by taking some NIS 800 each month in welfare payments, taking extra jobs or signing up for extra duties in the school. According to the NTU, the income of a teacher with a Masters degree and 15 years' experience came to NIS 7,202 per month, about NIS 3,000 less than a similarly qualified social worker in public service. These figures also lag behind international standards. According to the Organization of European Cooperation and Development, Israel's $18,000 per-year salary (in 2004 figures) for a 15-year veteran of the education system compares poorly to the Australian average of $45,000, Spain's $41,000, France's $33,000, and even Mexico's $21,000. The OECD even noted in its "Education at a Glance" report last year that the average Israeli teacher earns 25% less than the average income among all Israeli workers. The Korean teacher, in contrast, earns double the average Korean salary. In May, the elementary school union, the National Teachers Union, representing 80% of Israel's teachers, signed an agreement with the Finance Ministry that instituted a new wage scheme for elementary school teachers in which salaries would start at NIS 5,300 and rise 30% faster than in the previous wage scheme. The reform also gave more power in personnel decisions to school principals and demanded from teachers a longer work week. The SSTO is included in the NIS 5 billion budget set aside for implementing the reform plan, so the state has already budgeted for the high school teachers to enter the agreement. According to sources in the Education Ministry, the SSTO had only to negotiate small details relevant to high schools, such as payment for matriculation exam practice, for it to easily join the agreement. "Any changes in the agreement with the SSTO would break the deal with [NTU head Yossi] Vaserman," said the source, "so I don't see how we can change the deal." The Tamir-Erez meeting reportedly took place after Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On refused to meet with the SSTO head, even though Finance Ministry officials must approve any deal reached with the union.

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