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Teachers’ union threatens strike, accuses Finance Ministry of deception in new deal

Just days after reaching a deal to bump up salaries and avoid a school strike as the 2023-2024 academic year began Friday, high school teachers on Tuesday threatened follow through on the threat, accusing government officials of reneging on agreed-upon terms.

Under the deal, teachers are set to receive raises totaling NIS 2,000 ($525) a month, as well as an extra 1.35 percent into a special pension fund. The raises were to be distributed gradually over the next four years, with teachers initially receiving only an extra NIS 800 ($210) monthly.

On Tuesday, the Secondary School Teachers’ Association, which represents secondary school instructors, said it was surprised to learn that the extra NIS 800 would not be added to teachers’ September salaries, and accused the Finance Ministry of using deception during negotiations to avert a teachers strike.

Teachers union boss Ran Erez, who celebrated the deal on Thursday, said the ministry “acted against us in a deceptive manner. They managed to open a school year, but they immediately violated a commitment and also harmed our credibility with the teachers.”

According to Ynet, the ministry told the union the extra salary bump would be implemented once the agreement is signed, which can take several months.

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“Signing a salary agreement can take four months, and now they say that until then the teachers will not be paid,” Erez said, according to the report.

According to Erez, Education Minister Yoav Kish was in agreement with him, but let him know that if teachers uphold some measures like not releasing grades, he will petition the the labor court to issue an injuction.

Minister of Education Yoav Kisch at the education system’s war room in Jerusalem, ahead of the first day of school, August 31, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Finance Ministry responded in a statement, accusing the teachers of “continuing with their actions” even after a deal was reached, though it did not specify how.

The ministry said it was now “working to consolidate all the agreements” and called on the teachers’ organization to continue cooperating on this issue [and] without harming the students.”

According to their deal, announced on Thursday ahead of the first days of the 2023-2024 school year, teachers were to drop three hours of small-group instruction a week, but would add one hour of classroom lecturing, a move that the sides claimed would make up for a shortage of several thousand teachers nationwide.

In addition to the salary boost, the agreement also included a clause committing teachers to not go on strike over salary disputes for at least 6 and a half years, Haaretz reported.

Secondary School Teachers’ Association chair Ran Erez during a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Talks over the labor dispute had made little progress over the summer, but began to ramp up as the September 1 start date for the school year approached. Nonetheless, they came down to the wire, with most parents and schools already making alternate plans when the agreement was announced.

It marked the second year in a row that a strike was averted at the last moment, after a separate teachers union that represents elementary and middle school teachers nearly delayed the start of the 2022-2023 school year before the Treasury agreed to raise their salaries too.

Despite the deal opening schools, a number of issues remain unresolved, including demands for more vacation time. Also unaddressed is how the education system will absorb the loss of three hours of personalized instruction, or make up for the rest of the staffing shortfall.