A new wage agreement for Hebrew instruction ulpan teachers, signed in the presence of key government officials, is expected to have implications for aliyah integration in Israel.
The agreement was signed on Sunday morning by the Treasury, Education, and Aliyah ministers, as well as the Teachers’ Union Secretary-General Yaffa Ben-David, and seeks to address the significant role of the Hebrew language in the successful absorption of new immigrants from diverse backgrounds.
By improving the working conditions and remuneration of Hebrew study center employees, the government aims to attract and retain teaching staff, ultimately facilitating the integration of immigrants into Israeli society.
Under the terms of the agreement, ulpan teachers and administrators will receive improved wages and employment conditions, modeled after a new horizon reform. This will provide them with substantial salary increments and bring their terms of employment more in line with other educators working for the government.
Additionally, the agreement will expand private instruction hours to better accommodate the needs of immigrants.To incentivize evening classes, which offer an opportunity for immigrants to further develop their Hebrew language skills beyond their regular working hours, the agreement includes a one-time grant and special rewards for participating teachers.
Education Minister Yoav Kisch commended the agreement as a crucial development in elevating the status of teachers, a central goal in their working program.
“Today, we achieved the signing of a wage agreement with the Teachers’ Union, which will adjust the wages and working conditions of Hebrew instruction ulpan employees under a new horizon reform,” Kisch said. “This agreement is a significant and long-awaited development that we have tirelessly worked on to bring to fruition. It will duly reward you, the teachers, who through your dedicated work, contribute to passing on the Hebrew language heritage to the new immigrants, shaping and facilitating their integration into Israeli society over the years.”
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich remarked on the importance of this step towards integrating Jews from the Diaspora into Israel and lauded the educators for their pivotal role in this mission: “The immigration and integration of Jews from the Diaspora into Israel is a Zionist mission fulfilling a millennia-old aspiration. Key to this integration is language acquisition. The educators have dedicatedly served this purpose for years with deep commitment and passion for the mission and Zionism. The wage agreement inked today isn’t just for them; it’s for the entire aliyah system and our collective Zionist vision.”
“This agreement ensures our teachers receive a well-deserved raise, and I’m hopeful it will attract more educators to bridge the existing gaps,” Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer said, adding that his team is “crafting advanced Hebrew learning solutions, and we believe we’ll soon have more exciting updates for our immigrant community.”
An agreement under duress
While the signatories hailed the agreement as a milestone in promoting the status of teachers and bolstering the process of aliyah, this step alone might not entirely address the challenges in the education sector. The ongoing teacher shortage and issues related to wage disparities across different education sectors could still pose hurdles to the full integration of immigrants.
The recent wage agreement comes in the wake of a significant protest by Hebrew ulpan teachers across the country in March. Represented by the Teachers’ Union and working for the Education Ministry, the ulpan teachers voiced their frustration with their low salaries, demanding a new wage agreement to improve their pay.
Unlike other teachers who benefited from previous agreements, the ulpan teachers were excluded, resulting in their salaries remaining unchanged for the past 15 years. As a consequence, many starting teachers in ulpanim received only the minimum wage, leading to financial difficulties and dissatisfaction among the educators.
In response to the lack of progress in salary discussions and the government’s policies, hundreds of ulpan teachers initiated a protest by announcing that they would utilize sick days and refrain from teaching. This action led to the closure of ulpanim and the cancellation of classes, disrupting the sector’s ability to recruit new teachers and impacting Hebrew language courses for immigrants.
During the protests, teachers cited the heavy workload, large class sizes, and a lack of financial recognition for their efforts as key grievances. The situation left many teachers feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the challenges they faced in their profession. The Teachers’ Union has been actively advocating for an appropriate salary agreement, but the Finance Ministry and Education Ministry had not prioritized the matter, contributing to the growing discontent among ulpan teachers.
The ongoing issues in the ulpan sector have also affected the integration of immigrants, as delays in accessing ulpan courses have made it difficult for some professionals, including doctors, to settle in Israel without proper language education. This situation highlights the importance of addressing the wage concerns of ulpan teachers to ensure the smooth integration of immigrants and the stability of Hebrew language education programs.
In light of this context, the recent wage agreement signed for Hebrew instruction studio employees might be seen as an initial step taken by the government to address wage discrepancies in the education sector. However, further attention and comprehensive reforms are still needed to resolve the broader issues impacting ulpan teachers and to ensure the successful integration of immigrants into Israeli society.
Zvika Klein contributed to this report.