Junior staff lecturers want equal rights

Say they're employed with no hope of seniority, pension plan; Tamir: Their struggle is justified.

Yuli Tamir 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Yuli Tamir 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
University students started their first semester on Sunday - after a senior lecturers' strike of nearly 90 days - amidst new threats that the school year might again be jeopardized in just a few weeks. As senior doctors and professors were signing their agreement with the Finance Ministry on Friday, assistants and other junior staff lecturers announced a labor dispute of their own. The junior staff lecturers, who taught throughout the semester and did not strike, claimed that they were excluded from a previous agreement the senior lecturers' signed and that they were employed by academic institutions as "outside teachers", therefore they have no rights. In Israeli academia, junior staff lecturers with no tenure often face a policy whereby they are fired at the end of each academic year and rehired for the following year. This not only prevents the non-tenured staff from achieving employment continuity which would ensure their rights such as unemployment benefits in case they were fired 'for good' (Israeli law mandates continuity of at least 18 months; an academic year is approximately 7 months long), but also leaves the junior staff in the dark regarding their prospects for the following year. "I taught two one-semester courses over both semesters last year and the year before. Now I'm back [and] they tell me that because of cut-backs I can only teach one semester. I need to find a source of income for the second semester," a teacher in the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University told The Jerusalem Post at the beginning of the academic year. Dr. Eli Lahar, chairman of the junior staff lecturers, told Army Radio that a strike by the junior staff will not start in coming days, but was outraged by the treatment he and his colleagues were receiving. "We work eight months a year, with no pension plan and without academic and social rights," Lahar explained. "Every summer we get fired, so that we do not accrue seniority, heaven forbid." The junior staff's demands, as Lahar told the station, were moving to a normative course of employment of 12 months a year, including full social benefits. "The cost of our demands is far lower than the cost of the senior lecturers' demands, which were met last Friday." Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who is herself a professor of political philosophy, expressed her support of the junior staff and said "there is no struggle more justified" than that of junior staff lecturers. "In my opinion, this is the most overlooked group in the higher education system, and a real update of their wages and employment conditions is needed. I am certain that the main 'brain-drain' emanates mostly from this group," she said in an interview with Army Radio. "Junior staff lecturers will have the same conditions as senior staff. I hope this is resolved. Universities cannot allow having people employed in unworthy conditions," she added.