Teachers’ union to stage full-day strike Thursday, for second day in a row

The Israel Teachers Union will stage a second consecutive full-day strike on Thursday after its battle with the Finance Ministry worsened during the course of Wednesday.

Some 1.5 million children were unable to go to kindergarten or elementary school on Wednesday as a result of the strike, which the union called as part of its efforts to secure salary increases for teachers.

The Finance Ministry has said it is willing to raise teachers’ wages but only as part of a package of reforms to improve the overall education system, proposals which the teachers’ union has so far refused to accept.

Due to the full-day strike and shorter strikes that were held earlier in the week, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Wednesday that the Treasury would be funding summer school activities for kindergartens and elementary schools starting Sunday through the end of the week when the school year ends.

These activities, designed to take the sting out of the strike which has created severe problems for working parents, will be run by staff appointed by local municipal authorities, according to the Finance Ministry.

Following the announcement, Israel Teachers Union secretary-general Yaffa Ben David announced the strike would continue on Thursday and denounced Liberman for financing the summer school activities instead of raising teachers’ wages.

“It appears that the treasury does have money, but that it prefers to give it to summer school operators and not teachers and kindergarten staff,” Ben David said in response to Liberman’s plans.

She said the union had been in negotiations with the ministry for six months but was “yet to receive a single concrete proposal.”

Yaffa Ben David, left, speaks at a conference in Jerusalem on February 11, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90); Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman’s office said in response to Ben David’s announcement that “bullying behavior will not be taken into account.” It also said the teachers’ union should agree to an agreement “that will upgrade the education system.”

Following cooperation between the Finance Ministry and some local authorities, kindergartens in several cities were opened and operated on Wednesday by teaching assistants who are not members of the union.

But the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Arnon Ben David, announced later Wednesday that he would bring an end to this workaround, saying “the attempt to rest the entire burden of the education system on the backs of teaching assistants will not work.”

Liberman’s cabinet colleague, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, also criticized the finance minister, saying he did not agree to her request for all the leading players in the crisis to meet and negotiate.

“You should ask the finance minister why after such lengthy negotiations we are unable to prevent this strike and the great distress we are seeing among parents,” she told Channel 12 News.

“I stand today with the education system,” she added.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends a press conference in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Wednesday’s strike shuttered kindergartens and elementary schools, leaving parents with the headache of what to do with the some 1.5 million children who were stuck at home.

The daylong strike came after educational institutions had been opening their doors two hours late since Sunday, as the teachers union piled pressure on the Finance Ministry in a dispute over wages and working conditions.

Though many parents said they support the union’s campaign for higher wages, some felt they were being punished and lamented the impact on their children.

Special education institutions opened as usual on Wednesday. The strike will not affect students in grades 6 and up, who ended the school year on Monday.

Schools are set to end the academic year next week.

At the heart of the current dispute lie planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the Teachers Union, including allowing principals to fire staff without union intervention, and shrinking the pay gap between veteran and new teachers.

The union is demanding that new teachers earn a monthly salary of NIS 10,000 ($2,981), as well as a substantial increase in experienced teachers’ salaries.