Schools, kindergartens open late in Jerusalem area as teachers continue strike

Schools and kindergartens in the Jerusalem area and parts of central Israel and the West Bank remained shut on Sunday morning, with gates only set to open at 10 a.m. in the latest action taken by striking teachers.

The disruption was part of an ongoing struggle by the Israel Teachers Union for better working conditions.

Only kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools were included in the action — high schools and special education institutions were operating as usual.

Areas affected included: Abu Ghosh, Efrat, Beit Aryeh-Ofarim, Beit El, Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, Jordan Valley, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion, Har Adar, Hebron, Jerusalem, Mevaseret Zion, Megilot, Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut, Modi’in Illit, Mateh Binyamin, Mateh Yehuda, Ma’ale Adumim, Ma’ale Ephraim, Kiryat Arba and Kiryat Ye’arim.

On Thursday, public educational institutions opened late across central Israel, with the exception of Tel Aviv.

According to the Ynet news site, the teachers union plans to call a strike every day in a different part of the country until its demands are met — the school year concludes at the end of the month, meaning that labor leaders have a limited time period to achieve their aims.

Teachers from schools around the country hold a protest, in Tel Aviv, May 22, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Union leaders were set to meet with Finance Ministry officials on Sunday.

Government and union officials are negotiating a new salary agreement as part of the upcoming state budget.

At the heart of the tug-of-war lies planned Finance Ministry reforms to reduce the power of the teachers union, including allowing principals to fire staff without union intervention and shrink the pay gap between veterans and new teachers by setting wages according to competence, as opposed to length of experience.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has also proposed that the number of vacation days in the school system should be adjusted to come closer to the number of vacation days offered to workers, in a bid to ease the pressure on working parents.

The union is demanding that new teachers earn a monthly salary of NIS 10,000 ($2,981) as well as a meaningful increase in experienced teachers’ salaries, according to Ynet, which said that some longtime teachers are only earning NIS 7,500 ($2,235) a month.

Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Teachers Union at a protest staged by Israeli teachers demanding better pay and working conditions in Tel Aviv on May 30, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In an interview after the Thursday strike, Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David lamented that the last salary agreement with the Finance Ministry was made in 2019.

“I will take all legal steps at our disposal to rescue the education system that is collapsing, including a general strike,” she threatened and expressed her desire to move Finance Ministry officials from their current position.

Ben David claimed she enjoyed wide support from parents in the union’s struggle and urged them to speak out.

Ben David accused the ministry of foot-dragging over the dispute, claiming officials want to pay starting teachers NIS 8,200 ($2,444) a month. “We ruled it out. Who will come for NIS 8,200?”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, center speaks during a press conference with Ron Tomer president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, left, and Merom Schiff National Parents’ Council, ahead of the teachers’ union’s strike, held at the Ministry of Finance offices in Jerusalem, on May 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The frail coalition to which Liberman belongs may yet undermine his reforms. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has threatened to vote against the budget unless the teachers’ demands are substantively met.

Shasha-Biton threw her support behind the teachers in an online post on Wednesday, stating that the struggle for an increased salary is a “just and important cause.”

“Their cause is for everyone. It’s about the future of the country. It’s in the hands of finance officials to prevent disturbances by paving the road and accelerating negotiations immediately,” the minister wrote.

Ben David has made the rounds in the Hebrew media insisting that Israeli teachers are paid two-thirds less than the average for OECD countries, a commonly cited index of wealthy economies.

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

But an analysis by the Kan public broadcaster found that the gap is much smaller once a more nuanced breakdown — accounting for bonuses and added pay for experience — is made. Israeli teachers were actually paid as much or more than the average teacher in OECD countries, the network concluded.

To further complicate matters, schools around the country are facing a significant teacher shortage.

At least 20,000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated in Tel Aviv at the end of May for higher pay and better working conditions as part of the action led by the Israel Teachers Union.

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