Striking Open University staff claim intimidation

English Department said to be asking teachers to report on colleagues.

Empty class 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Empty class 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The institution-wide work stoppage at the Open University that began a week ago is showing no signs of ending, and faculty members told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the school's management is trying to intimidate strikers, and even to convince them to report on strikers. "It looks like the management is going to try and break the strike by pressuring us," a junior faculty member who asked to remain anonymous told the Post. "People are afraid for their jobs, they're afraid for their livelihoods, definitely, but who knows? We hope the workers organization [the labor rights' NGO Koach L'ovdim, which organized the strike] will be strong enough to protect us." The strike, which began on Sunday at the university's 50 branches, is the product of a long-standing dispute between the junior teaching staff and the school's management. Staff members are demanding job security for junior faculty members, who are currently hired for one semester at a time, and must renew their contracts after the end of each term. They are also asking for their first pay raise in a decade. "That we are given contracts on a semester basis only, is one of the major grievances," the junior faculty member said. "We understand that the university works on a semester-to-semester basis, and that they can't plan for the long-term. But we would like to see something like they have at the country's other universities, where staff are given at least a full-year contract. "But another grievance is that there hasn't been a pay hike in 10 years," the faculty member continued. "It seems ridiculous to me that we're still being paid the same amount we were being paid in 1998. So yes, the first problem is the contracts, but our second issue is improving the pay scale." Faculty members say the university is trying to break the strike rather than find middle ground. Part of the pressure being exerted on the staff, according to both the faculty member and Koach L'ovdim members, came in the form of a letter sent to staff by the English Department, in which classes were said to be functioning normally, and staff members were asked to report on colleagues. "Would you please keep an eye on those teachers who you know are striking and inform me so that we can make contingency plans for additional materials such as exam preparation, etc., if necessary," reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post. Faculty members denounced the letter as "a tactic of intimidation" and said they were surprised the university was going to such lengths to break the strike, rather than negotiating seriously. "They're basically asking us to spy on one another," the junior faculty member said. "It seems almost unimaginable to me that in the post-modern era, an educational institution would resort to such measures. It's pretty disgusting really. "There is also a well-founded rumor going around that members of the workers organization that organized the strike have been intimidated by the management as well," the faculty member said. An attempt to contact the university regarding the allegations was rebuffed on Thursday, as the woman who answered the phone said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm the right address to respond to any questions about [the strike]." Nonetheless, the faculty member told the Post there was still hope for a speedy conclusion to the strike, and that while he was sorry that the students were missing classes, the lost time would be made up. "In the Israeli tradition, when you have a strike and an agreement is reached, the teachers extend their hours and give back lost time," the faculty member said. "I would imagine that in the long run, there will be an extension to the semester, and any damage that has been caused to the students semester will be compensated for."