Teachers union breaks off talks, university strike continues

SSTO representative: Gov't keeps asking for "creative ideas, but all our ideas are shot down."

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
October 22, 2007 22:30
2 minute read.
strike feat 88 224

strike feat 88 224. (photo credit: (Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The high school teachers union announced Monday it was breaking off negotiations with the Finance and Education ministries because the negotiations were "going nowhere." "The current level of negotiations has reached its end," a Secondary School Teachers Organization representative told The Jerusalem Post. Government representatives "keep asking for creative ideas, but all our ideas are shot down. They demand that we join [National Teachers Union head Yossi] Vaserman's reforms, which we can't do because that reform plan doesn't work for secondary education." The move comes in order to try and force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to enter the negotiations process, with SSTO head Ran Erez noting Monday that "without his involvement, we can't return to the negotiating table." For now, said the union representative, "we told them they could give us a call if they have new ideas, or they could upgrade the level of negotiations." In response Monday, Finance and Education officials reiterated their previous threats to turn to the National Labor Court to force the teachers back to work, claiming that the ongoing strike would jeopardize the winter matriculation exams for tens of thousands of high schoolers. The Finance Ministry said in a statement that "the union has backtracked on the negotiations and demanded an immediate salary increase without any added work." While the government is willing to invest some NIS 5 billion in "improving the standing of Israel's teachers and the education system" - a reference to the NTU reforms - "SSTO head Ran Erez is choosing to bring the system to utter collapse. His behavior and the fact that the strike has gone on for 10 days [by Monday] doesn't serve the interests of the teachers or those of the high school students." Asked what the union would do if the government turned to the courts to force the teachers back to work, the union representative said, "We have good lawyers and we'll know how to deal with this." At a press conference Monday morning, Erez announced that the union has "a duty to cry out. No one would let an engineer build a bridge without enough cement because they can't find enough money," he said. At the press conference, the SSTO found allies in the National Union of Israeli Students, which represents students at Israel's major universities. "We've been part of your struggle for over six months," declared National Union of Israeli Students head Itay Shonshine, while an NUIS statement decried "the attempt to force through reforms without the cooperation of all those concerned. The struggle of the teachers and university lecturers is immensely important to the future of education in Israel." The high education strike will also continue Tuesday as senior lecturers seek a collective wage agreement that will raise wages that have eroded significantly since 2001. The strike continues despite the suggestion on Monday by Education Minister Yuli Tamir to turn to arbitration to settle the issue, a suggestion to which the Senior Lecturers Union has yet to respond. "We got the suggestion [to turn to arbitration] this evening, long after it hit the news media," union head Prof. Zvi Hacohen told the Post on Monday night. "But it's very basic and laconic. When we get full details, we'll relate to it."

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