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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A day after the National Labor Court issued injunctions forcing striking secondary school teachers back to work after Hanukka, negotiations between the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) and the Finance and Education ministries ended without results.
After Wednesday night's talks, SSTO head Ran Erez and Education Ministry Dir.-Gen. Shlomit Amihai said the meeting was unsuccessful and that no progress had been made in the negotiations.
"Nothing changed tonight. It was another meeting in long series of discussions in which we and the Finance and Education ministries stood firm in our positions," said Erez.
The Finance Ministry even claimed that during the meeting, the SSTO went back on certain elements of the ministries' offer on which there had previously been some compromises.
Finance Ministry Director- General Yaron Ariav explained to Army Radio: "The argument was never over the size of the salary increase, it was over what the teachers would give in return. In recent negotiations, the SSTO's position was that teachers would give one or two more hours teaching students with learning difficulties. We were insisting that they teach small groups of five children, whereas they wanted to teach one individual. However, yesterday he [Erez] said: 'The game has now changed,' and he demanded that teachers get paid more for merely remaining in school for an additional hour."
Negotiations are expected to continue throughout the Hanukka vacation period.
Meanwhile, as the senior university lecturers' strike entered it 41st day, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu slammed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for failing to end the education crisis. "In my day, I intervened immediately in the student strike and brought it to an end within a few days," Army Radio quoted Netanyahu as saying.
However, chairman of students union at the time, Lior Rothbart, disagreed with Netanyahu. "It seems that the opposition leader has again suffered from a memory lapse. Our strike lasted 44 days and Netanyahu didn't really help bring about its end," he said.
The National Labor Court's attempt to end the seven-week high school strike centered Wednesday over convincing the sides to negotiate over Hanukka and encouraging the teachers to return to work during the holiday period, which is meant to be a paid vacation for the teachers.
But the SSTO has "no intention of going back to work," according to a spokesperson for the union. The union plans to appeal to the High Court of Justice against what it considers the labor court's "inappropriate" ruling that disregards the "dishonest" behavior of the state during the negotiations.
According to a court spokesperson, the government has offered the teachers a higher-than-usual salary for the duration of the Hanukka vacation if teachers return to work before the December 13 deadline set by the labor court's back-to-work order. The extra pay will help compensate for wages lost in the strike, which has cost the country some 3,225,000 teaching hours and teachers almost two months' wages.
The back-to-work order came overnight Tuesday and was met with anger by SSTO leaders.
"This is a black day for education, and a black day for the National Labor Court," Erez said. "I don't understand how [Education Minister] Yuli Tamir, who is an intelligent woman, can allow teachers to return to work with their hands bound."
"The government is trying to break the strike by force," he said, adding that teachers would continue their struggle within the legal framework, and that back-to-work orders would not solve the problems with the educational system.
In response to the union's claim that the government's promises were made "in bad faith," the court order also ordered the government to provide in writing the promised working condition teachers would receive by the agreed-upon reform plan.
It was unclear in the immediate aftermath of the court order what teachers will do on December 13, since the past week has seen hundreds of teachers calling for open defiance of the order, while the SSTO has promised to "obey the law" and carry out the order.
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