Teachers strike enters 43rd day

Court orders sides to submit negotiations documents; union head volunteers as mediator.

Yuli Tamir 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Yuli Tamir 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The National Labor Court ordered representatives of the Finance Ministry and the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) to submit a series of documents relating to their negotiations by 6 pm Wednesday, Army Radio reported. Court President Justice Steve Adler is expected to review recent developments and then schedule a court session to discuss the state's request that it help end the teachers' strike. Teachers Union head Yossi Wasserman on Tuesday offered his services as a mediator in the negotiations between the Finance Ministry and the SSTO, Army Radio said. On Monday evening, the government announced that it was turning back to the National Labor Court to oversee the negotiations with the SSTO 42 days into the strike. However, Education Minister Yuli Tamir said they did not intend to ask for back to work orders immediately. "The [court] orders are not the goal," she said during a press conference at the Treasury. Nevertheless, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said there was "no progress" and he was "not optimistic." He also did not rule out the possibility that the court would see fit to order the teachers back to work. The government had agreed to suspend their demand for court orders for two weeks. Those two weeks expired on Friday, Bar-On noted. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday in Annapolis that the government "does not want to break the teachers," but that it would also "not be broken by them" and would not capitulate to the "exaggerated demands" of the striking Secondary Schools Teachers Union. He said he was closely following the efforts to negotiate a resolution to the strike action, but that it was "impudent" to demand that he personally manage the efforts to broker an agreement. Both Bar-On and Tamir said that they had come to the reluctant conclusion that SSTO head Ran Erez was more interested in torpedoing the reform than negotiating seriously. "The only objective of the SSTO is to destroy the National Teachers Union reform," Bar-On said. "I asked Ran Erez why the teachers didn't strike for years. Through 16 cutbacks, they didn't strike, and he told me 'we could prevent the reform without striking.' Their objective now is to prevent the reform," said Tamir. The press conference followed a late night meeting Sunday in which Erez reportedly said that "some people enjoy being raped." Erez was apparently responding to a comment by Treasury Budgets Director Kobi Haber, who said the "Treasury was raped [or coerced]" into accepting Histadrut head Ofer Eini's compromise proposal. In response to Erez's surprising comment, Education Ministry Dir.-Gen. Shlomit Amihai yelled at him, "Erase that word. An educator cannot talk that way." Erez then reportedly replied, "Don't hold me to specific words, whoever gets raped [or coerced], many times they like it." Erez apologized for his comments during an interview with Army Radio on Monday morning. "That was not my intention. I didn't say what they say I did. If anyone was offended, then I apologize," Erez said. Amihai also told Army Radio that the incident shouldn't be blown out of proportion. "Generally, he is a polite man. There is no need to turn this into an international incident," she said. Both Tamir and Bar-On stressed during the press conference Monday evening that they were willing to discuss various reform proposals both for reducing class size and increasing teaching hours, but that such reforms could not be decided from one day to the next. "If you want a proposal that lays out exactly how class size is reduced, how many hours will be put back," that's just not possible, Bar-On said. "Reform does not come about from one day to the next." Bar-On also pledged that any money slated for education in the budget would be used for education and not reallocated elsewhere. He reiterated the government's pledge that the teachers "would receive wage increases of between 26-34%." Both ministers stressed they were trying to get the children off the streets and back into the classroom.