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Why are teachers on strike in Israel?

Israel's Teachers' Union intensified its protests due to stalled wage negotiations on Sunday, causing classes to start later than usual on Sunday. Classes in kindergartens, primary schools and junior high schools started later than usual at 10 A.M. on Sunday. Last week, classes were suspended for two hours in Tel Aviv, the central district, Haifa, and the northern and southern districts, each day in a different region.

The Teachers’ Union said that they were ramping up their protests in light of their issues being “dismissed and neglected” by the prime minister, the alternate prime minister, the finance minister and other treasury officials, who came to another meeting with them unprepared, with no budgetary outlines.

“This is a wake-up call for [Avigdor] Lieberman, [Naftali] Bennett and [Yair] Lapid,” said union secretary Yaffa Ben David. “You will soon not have a school system to save.” Addressing them, she added that agreements could be reached by the end of the month, “if only you stopped acting so feebly and instructed your officials to do their job.”

The Teachers’ Union has warned over the last few weeks of a massive walkout before the next school year. The Education Ministry has sent questionnaires to school principals in recent weeks, in an attempt to establish the extent of the anticipated shortage in teachers. Principals who spoke with Haaretz said there was a growing shortage of science, English and homeroom teachers in particular, especially in the country’s central district.

The previous wage agreement with teachers expired in 2019, but negotiations over a new one only began last January. The treasury wants the new agreement to close the gaps between new and veteran teachers, which is now one of the largest in developed countries. The Teachers’ Union wants wage increments to apply to all teachers.

The Finance Ministry also wants to promote a mechanism which would allow principals to reward teachers who excel, as well as change the vacation calendar so that it coincides with vacations in the rest of the economy. This could be achieved by transferring some of these days, such as the vacation on Lag Ba'omer, to Fridays, when most parents don’t work. Another suggestion is that part of the summer vacation be transferred to the High Holiday season. Ben David has rejected these proposals. At a demonstration held by teachers earlier this week, Ben David said “vacation days are not up for negotiations, since the summer vacation is like oxygen for teachers.”

The Education Ministry has not appealed to the Labor Court over the protest stoppages, and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has expressed her support for the protests.

Shira Kadari-Ovadia