Semester in peril as lecturers' strike goes on

University heads threaten to cancel semester if deal not struck in 10 days; junior faculty also threatens to strike.

Hebrew university 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hebrew university 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The university semester will have to be canceled if the senior lecturers' strike continues for another 10 days to two weeks, representatives of the Conference of University Presidents (CUP) told the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee Tuesday. "If the strike continues another ten days, then we will have to cancel the semester," Technion, Israel Institute of Technology President Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig told the committee. "We can last another three weeks," Tel Aviv University President Prof. Zvi Galil said. At the same meeting, Eli Lohar, a representative of the junior faculty threatened to strike as soon as the senior lecturers' demands were satisfied. "Even if you solve the senior lecturers' problems, the semester might not start because we might start to strike as soon as their strike is over. We have been waiting for three years to negotiate small matters. We don't have adequate benefits, and hiring and firing practices are not good," he said. The committee met to discuss the lack of progress in resolving the Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) strike. Apparently, the main reason no negotiations took place at all last week and none so far this week is because the Finance Ministry has been waiting for data from the CUP regarding wages since 2001. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On told the committee "we have been waiting for over a month for data from the presidents about the lecturers' wages." Apeloig said the data would be handed over on Wednesday, and that the reason it had taken a month was because the information had to be gleaned by hand from each professor's files separately and then collated with data from other universities whose computer systems were not entirely compatible with each other. Treasury Wage Director Eli Cohen laid out his perspective on the strike and its progress, explaining that "generally an agreement is reached with the Histadrut [Labor Federation] first and then, several months later, with the professors. However, this year, the lecturers didn't wait until the deal with the Histadrut was signed before striking." Moreover, "this year has been an unusual year for collective agreements. New ones have been signed for the first time in years. Everyone is hungrier than usual and so I have to hold back more [money]," Cohen added. Cohen said the normal negotiation procedure was for the professors to negotiate with their employers, the presidents, and then get the Treasury involved. He called on the presidents to become more involved in the negotiations. Cohen also said he was waiting for the data from the presidents before sitting down to serious negotiations. "We can't just stick a finger in the air and decide the rate of erosion," he said. Bar-On, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and SLU Head Prof. Zvi Hacohen also spent a fair amount of time harping on the draft agreement that emerged out of the last education committee meeting two weeks ago that all but Hacohen signed. The Education and Finance ministries both indicated their willingness to go back to that document as a basis for negotiations and an immediate end to the strike. The agreement calls for a mechanism to stop salary erosion and the rate of erosion since 1997 to be investigated. Hacohen reiterated that he was also willing to discuss those mechanisms as long as they were fleshed out and as long as they were both implemented immediately, rather than begin the process of checking salary erosion after the strike. Despite the seeming accord, there was a feeling the parties are still far from an agreement. What is more, the ministers made it clear that they viewed this strike with far less sympathy than the high school teachers'. Bar-On began by saying to the committee that "as this strike continues it confuses me more and more. The lecturers get the highest salaries in the public sector."