Israel's teachers' strike is justified but must be kept within reason - editorial

A report published by the OECD at the end of July found that Israel had one of the world’s biggest gaps in teachers’ salaries.

 Israeli teachers protest as they demand better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israeli teachers protest as they demand better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

As is oftentimes the situation in Israel, everyone is just a little bit too stressed out.

In this case, we are talking about the Teachers Union which is currently ensnared in a long and aggressive battle against what they describe as unfair wages and poor working conditions.

Meanwhile, parents are holding their collective breath worried that the school year will not begin when it is supposed to due to a potential teachers’ strike that could roll over into the school year.

The last time the Teachers Union acted on its frustration was when teachers went on strike toward the end of the previous school year. Union secretary-general Yaffa Ben David met with Finance Ministry representative Kobi Bar-Natan, during which they agreed to halt the strike pending an additional meeting.

The Teachers Union has been at war with the Education and Finance ministries, trying to help the people it represents and secure their livelihoods.

 YAFFA BEN-DAVID, head of the Teachers’ Union, greets teachers participating in a demonstration in Tel Aviv in May demanding better pay and work conditions. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) YAFFA BEN-DAVID, head of the Teachers’ Union, greets teachers participating in a demonstration in Tel Aviv in May demanding better pay and work conditions. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Are Israel's teachers being treated well?

There is truth to their claims. A report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at the end of July found that Israel had one of the world’s biggest gaps in teachers’ salaries, with veteran teachers such as principals earning as much as NIS 25,346 while new, starting teachers can make as low as NIS 5,880.

Israel’s teachers, younger and older alike, are some of the lowest-paid education workers of all OECD countries. They work more hours than average – easy enough to believe, considering Israel’s six-day school week – and face extreme shortages, forcing them to cover for shifts that would otherwise be taken by other teachers.

Indeed, the Education Ministry announced at the end of July that Israel faces a shortage of almost 6,000 teachers – a massive and extremely concerning loss that points to the unlivable conditions by which they are faced. Many young teachers leave the industry soon after joining it, citing work conditions and incredibly low salaries.

Finally, this past Wednesday, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman presented a proposal to the Teachers Union that could definitively put an end to the threat of a strike. It involves a rise in rank for the teachers; a new, higher minimum salary for starting teachers; and bonuses for teachers who are employed long-term.

The main points of the proposal include, among others, an NIS 9,000 per month starting salary for full-time employees, salary increases for administrative staff and school principals, bonuses for job longevity, minimum wage regulations for specialty positions, 100% salary for interns, and variable adjusted vacation days.

“This is the first time since the establishment of the state that the budget of the Education Ministry is larger than any other budget, including the Defense Ministry,” Liberman said. “There are countless wage claims.

"Everything that we sign with the teachers, by extension, will also affect others.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman

This was faced with a mixed response. Some are pleased to see the Finance Ministry stepping up and proposing better working conditions, while others say that this is not enough. In fact, some say it is insulting.

This is a long standoff and it’s unclear if it will ever reach a definitive end. The Finance Ministry pulls in one direction as the Teachers Union pulls in the other direction, with the Education Ministry seemingly trying to keep everyone happy.

That being said, this game of chicken, whether or not there’s a compromise that makes everybody happy, needs to reach a concrete and safe ending so that children can go back to school on September 1. This is crucial for the function of the country in its entirety so that parents do not have to stay home from work with their children or hire extra childcare, thereby losing a significant chunk of money in this already hard-to-endure economic environment.

Teachers do deserve better work conditions and higher salaries. That is undeniable. The way they are treated in Israel, especially on a comparative level in contrast to countries throughout the world, is unacceptable.

That being said, expectations must be kept realistic. The Teachers Union mustn’t make demands past that which is within the realm of reason.

Otherwise, this will end in a crash, and the results may very well be catastrophic for children, parents and teachers countrywide.