Junior faculty, students join strike efforts

Gov't offers teachers two alternatives to end secondary school shutdown.

Tamir 224.88 (photo credit: Ehud Zion Waldoks)
Tamir 224.88
(photo credit: Ehud Zion Waldoks)
The Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) decided to recruit the junior faculty and the students on Thursday to their strike efforts after negotiations with the Treasury came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. "The hallucinatory positions put forth by the Treasury last night at our meeting leave us no choice but to intensify the struggle. The semester is in danger of being cancelled and it appears that the parties involved don't care about the worsening crisis. We are determined to continue striking until our demands are met," Prof. Zvi Hacohen said in a statement after the SLU met on Thursday afternoon to approve widening the strike. The SLU announced it would hold several protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the course of the coming week. On Friday at 11, the senior lecturers in conjunction with Jerusalem's student union will hold a "Street University" at Zion Square where they will give lectures about the strike and the crisis in higher education. On Monday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem student union will join the strike and lock down the campuses, the union said Thursday. Instead of classes, they called on all students to attend a civics lesson outside of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's house at 2:00 p.m. On Wednesday, the senior and junior faculty as well as the students will shut down Tel Aviv University for the day in protest. And on Thursday, all three groups will hold a protest in Antin Square opposite Tel Aviv University. The junior faculty have their own demands for the Treasury as well and have been considering a strike for awhile. Last week, Eli Lohar, who represents the junior faculty, told the Knesset Education Committee that his compatriots might strike as soon as the senior lecturers' strike was resolved. Meanwhile, the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) and the government were meeting at the National Labor Court on Thursday evening, the 43 day of the strike, after both sides submitted their draft agreements to the court on Thursday afternoon. The State offered two tracks for those who accept the first stage of the reform and one for those who don't, according to the draft document submitted to the court. Those who don't accept the reform would only get the five percent raise as agreed to between the state and the general Histadrut. Those who do accept the first stage of the reform would get an additional 8.5% raise which they would receive in three installments over the course of a year and a half (from January 2008 to June 2009). In return, teachers would commit to either: 1) one more frontal teaching hour and one more individual teaching hour to teach small groups per week, or, 2) Three more individual teaching hours to teach small groups. In addition, the principal's authority would be widened with regard to tenure, budget, professional evaluations and hiring new teachers. The government did not submit any specific plans for reducing class sizes because they said the issue had not been examined sufficiently and required more research. The government also said it could not give exact salary figures for signing on to the complete reform because many elements were still as yet unresolved. However, the Treasury did reiterate its commitment to a 26% increase in salaries, which includes the 8.5%. Nevertheless, the government said that if agreement on the complete reform plan was not reached by June 30, 2009, the money put aside for raises would be returned to the Education Ministry budget and used for other parts of the reform. The Treasury pledged an additional NIS100m. in 2008 on top of the NIS 1.354b. budgeted to combat salary erosion. The Finance Ministry has budgeted NIS5b. for the entire reform plan. According to the draft agreement, aside from salary issues, the reform would also standardize promotion criteria both for teachers and principals. It would also mandate teachers punch in and out at the beginning and end of every day to reduce teacher absenteeism. The strike became the longest school strike in Israeli history this week.