Adler: Let arbitrator evaluate lecturers' wages

Sides to respond to Nat'l Labor Court president's suggestion Monday evening; Melchior slams Treasury for failing to provide data on strike.

melchior 224.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
melchior 224.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After 78 days of the senior lecturers' strike, National Labor Court President Steve Adler on Sunday night issued a compromise proposal to solve the crisis that is likely to lead to the cancellation of the Fall 2007 university semester. According to the proposal, made at a meeting with Treasury officials, lecturers and university presidents, the lecturers will immediately receive partial compensation for salary erosion that has accumulated over the last seven years and an arbitrator will be appointed to determine the rest. Sunday's meeting ended at midnight, and Representatives from the Treasury, Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) and Council of University Presidents (CUP) will meet again on Monday evening before submitting a response to Adler's proposal. Earlier Sunday, the Treasury and the lecturers told the Knesset Education Committee there were still vast differences between the parties. Meanwhile, the National Labor Court ordered the sides to present their reactions to draft back-to-work orders by Tuesday morning, as the court plans to debate the matter on Wednesday morning. Committee Chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) took the Finance Ministry, in the form of Deputy Wage Director Yossi Cohen, to task for failing to provide the committee and the court with the data each had requested months ago. "An impression has been created that the Treasury prefers that there is no progress. With equanimity, they are going to cancel the semester! Over and above the consequences to the economy, the heart just bleeds. We are talking about an issue with deep ramifications for people's fates, their education and their professions. We are talking about the tears and pain of the students, and about the character of the entire state." "I am furious. A picture has been drawn here of a sort of indifference that has no place here, no explanation, considering the seriousness of what is on the agenda. I am concerned by the total lack of trust between the sides: The lecturers know that if they return to teaching, the negotiations will drag out like they did before they began striking. [The Treasury] will stop dealing with them altogether. They don't trust the Finance Ministry. The Education Committee won't intervene in labor disputes, but when the situation is so dire, the sides must sit and negotiate day and night!" Melchior said. Melchior also decried the fact that his panel had requested specific data from the ministry two months ago, but Cohen had failed to bring it to the meeting. Cohen told the committee the sides were still far apart on how much lecturers' salaries had eroded from 1997 to 2006. "The professors demanded a 10 percent addition to their salaries, and with the process their appetite grew, and they increased their demand to 35% for salary erosion, while we claim that salary erosion is just 3 percent," Cohen said. "It would not be responsible to acquiesce to those demands. The whole picture must be taken into account. One must take into account that the Histadrut [Labor Federation] is delaying signing its [overall] agreement until there are signatures on an agreement with the lecturers. We are preventing the setting of precedents that will be detrimental in the long run," Cohen continued. He said the Finance Ministry was still examining the possibility of extending the salary erosion calculations to 2009. Cohen told the committee that the Treasury had offered the lecturers the same raise of 4.7% that was worked out with the Histadrut for all public sector workers, a mechanism to be implemented in 2010 that would allow for a raise of 1.5% per year as well as arbitration over salary erosion issue. Dana Aharon presented a Treasury report that put the damage to the universities from a lost semester at NIS 3 billion. "We calculated that the damage would be NIS 3b. to the universities. Our calculation was based on the cost of a summer semester, as well as junior faculty salaries, among other things," she said. While thanking the Finance Ministry representatives for the information, Melchior said the original information request had been for how much the loss of the semester would cost the economy as a whole. The committee condemned the Treasury's "foot-dragging" over providing answers to the Labor Court and its behavior toward the Education Committee and the Knesset. The MKs also called on the Finance Ministry's budget arm to sit down with the students and the universities to immediately discuss compensation for the damage caused to the students by the strike. The committee also demanded that the Treasury and the Committee of University Presidents address the junior faculty's demands so that they would not go on a strike as soon as the senior lecturers' one ends. Finally, the MKs reminded the government of its commitment not to implement the Shochat Committee's university reform recommendations without clearing them with the students first.