Treasury says it could seek back-to-work orders for teachers if talks break down

A senior Treasury official said on Sunday morning that the Department of Finance was exploring the possibility of forcing teachers back to school on September 1 via a court order if negotiations failed.

In an interview with Army Radio, Finance Ministry payroll commissioner Kobi Bar-Nathan said the negotiations had “ups and downs”.

“I was sure we would be in a much better place now,” he said. “This is why we are studying the possibility of using injunctions. We are doing everything in our power to get the school year off to a good start.

Talks to avert a threatened strike by the Israel Teachers’ Union at the start of the upcoming school year have been unsuccessful for months.

With schools set to open later this week, political leaders have taken an active role in the issue, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid holding talks last week with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, Israel Teachers’ Union leader Yaffa Ben David and National Parents Association President Merom Shiff in an effort to find a solution to the months-long crisis.

Negotiations for a new deal are reportedly stalled by a union demand that a system determining salary increases based on rank and seniority remain in place, rather than one that transfers some of those increases to new teachers and those who excel in their work. .

The Department of Finance is proposing that new teachers receive a 35% raise, while veteran teachers only receive a 3% raise.

Liberman’s plan also includes increasing the number of workdays for teachers in an effort to help working parents. He also wants to provide more flexibility for headteachers by allowing them to offer raises to outstanding teachers to encourage excellence within the profession.

“The teachers’ union emphasizes seniority, and in the finance ministry, the emphasis is on excellence,” Liberman said last week.

The union, which represents daycare, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, rejected all the proposals, at one point accusing the department of “manipulating the numbers” in its favor and worsening the crisis. With the Ministry of Education, he warned that the salary plan will lead to a mass exodus of teachers in five to six years.

Israeli teachers demonstrate, demanding better wages and working conditions, outside a press conference by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman has publicly resisted the prime minister’s intervention to deal with the crisis, suggesting the decision was political in nature – elections are scheduled for November 1 and parents unable to send their children to school may express their frustrations at the polls – and saying that politicians should “leave the management of the negotiations only to the professional ranks”.

“I clarified in a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education that only the person in charge of salaries in the Ministry of Finance is the one who manages the negotiations on salary agreements,” he said. said in a statement last week.

The government has limited leeway with what it can offer teachers. As a caretaker government, the attorney general has capped what the finance ministry can offer teachers to 4 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) ahead of the election.

Ben David, meanwhile, warned of “chaos” on September 1 if the talks fail.

Treasury officials and teachers’ union representatives are due to meet later on Sunday in a bid to reach an agreement.

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Maria D. Ervin