Professors decide not to intensify strike

Decision made after the Finance Ministry recognizes SLU demands for the first time.

Hebrew university 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hebrew university 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) decided Monday night not to intensify its three-week-old strike after the Finance Ministry appeared to recognize the lecturers' demands for the first time. The SLU had threatened Sunday to widen the strike if negotiations did not progress. An already less-than-staid Knesset Education Committee meeting turned into the forum for immediate negotiations Monday morning when SLU head Prof. Zvi Hacohen outlined in general terms his conditions for ending the strike. Hacohen told the committee he would end the strike if "a mechanism to stop salary erosion was implemented and the rate of erosion since 1997 was investigated." Tamir replied, "If you write up that sentence, the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be willing to sign it." MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) seized the moment. Gafni, Tamir, Hacohen, Finance Ministry wage director Eli Cohen and Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Magidor took over an empty room across the hall where Gafni wrote out, by hand, on a loose-leaf page, the two conditions Hacohen had stated. Tamir, Cohen and Magidor then signed the statement. However, Hacohen refused to be pressured into signing immediately. Ultimately, he refused to sign at all - despite a further attempt to negotiate brokered by Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) several hours after the committee session. "The Finance Ministry was going back on its word," Hacohen told The Jerusalem Post after the second meeting failed to reach an agreement. "What I said was the headlines or highlights of what needs to be discussed in depth. We want the Finance Ministry to clearly say what the mechanism for stopping salary erosion is." First they say one thing and then another, he said. "This could be the basis for future negotiations, but only if they clarify exactly what the mechanism is." Hacohen released a statement Monday night outlining his reasons for not signing. "The strike will continue until the Finance Ministry agrees to our demands for full compensation for the salary erosion since 1997 and the establishment of a mechanism to compensate further erosion in the future," the statement said. "To my sorrow, the Finance Ministry did not offer any specific mechanism for compensation and did not accept our proposal for such a mechanism. In addition, the Finance Ministry did not commit to the level of compensation for the senior lecturers to repay the erosion since 1997." However, because the Finance Ministry had recognized those demands for the first time, the SLU decided to hold off on widening the strike. "There was no way to start serious negotiations without signing the statement," Tamir said after the meeting. Melchior, while expressing sympathy for the university professors and their plight, told the Post: "They [the SLU] missed an opportunity. They had real progress in their hand. I don't blame them, but they missed an opportunity. "They had the Knesset backing them; we wouldn't have let the Finance Ministry renege on any agreements reached. But they needed one more sign of commitment from the Finance Ministry." Also Monday, during a committee meeting called to hear updates on both the lecturers' and the high school teachers' strikes, the wage director tore into Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTO) head Ran Erez. Cohen blasted Erez and the SSTO's administration and repeatedly denigrated the strike. "The administration of the SSTO decided to wreck the negotiations and run away from the reform," he said. "They want a raise without the reform." he said. "We had a big problem negotiating with [Erez] and the SSTO administration," he added. Cohen called the strike "the strangest strike the Finance Ministry has seen," expressing doubt about its legitimacy. He highlighted the differences between the negotiations with the Teachers Union and the SSTO. "The Teachers Union came to an agreement without strikes to help implement the first education reform in 40 years," Cohen said. "And the teachers in the Teachers Union got their first NIS 4,000 raise last week on the first of the month." Erez dismissed the need for back-to-work orders for students to take matriculation exams. "The winter exams are not mandatory," he said. "There are also second and third opportunities to retake the exams. To say that court orders are needed for matriculation exams is excessive." Erez said he would consider the committee's request to exclude the youth villages from the strike so that pupils there would have a positive place to spend their time rather than wandering the streets and getting into trouble. Tamir began the meeting by citing the demand for an immediate 15 percent increase in teachers' salaries as the main sticking point at the moment. "If there was willingness to compromise, then I would push for compromise on my side," she said. Tamir said a full agreement would take two to three months to work out. "I have no doubt that it [an agreement] is feasible, but it will take two to three months," she said. However, the agreement with the Teachers Union could also be in jeopardy, Channel 2 reported later Monday. Union head Yossi Wasserman said his organization had not yet signed the agreement with the Finance Ministry. He outlined demands very similar to those being put forth by the SSTO.