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Cablegate: Union and Government Reportedly Reach Tentative

VZCZCXYZ0005
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTV #3493/01 3451551
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111551Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4538

UNCLAS TEL AVIV 003493

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB IS SOCI
SUBJECT: UNION AND GOVERNMENT REPORTEDLY REACH TENTATIVE
AGREEMENT AFTER ISRAELI LABOR COURT ORDERS STRIKING
SECONDARY TEACHERS BACK TO WORK

REF: TEL AVIV 3232

1. Summary. On December 4, The National Labor Court ordered
striking teachers back to work following the Hanukah
festival. The court also ordered the teachers and government
to continue negotiating. Education Minister Yuli Tamir was
quoted as being satisfied with the decision, and calling for
the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) to return
to the negotiating table. On December 9, PM Olmert called on
the SSTO to conclude negotiations by the end of Hanukah
vacation so that the education system would not have to
operate under court orders. SSTO chairman Ran Erez harshly
criticized the court's decision, however, and had previously
protested that the state was "refusing to negotiate."
According to media reports, the two sides reached an
agreement in principle during December 10 meetings that would
have for the teachers to return to work December 13 following
the Hanukah holiday. The agreement includes a modest wage
increase and reduced class sizes in exchange for more
teaching hours. Concurrently, hundreds of teachers protested
PM Olmert's December 10 speech at the Israeli Business
Conference. Histadrut contacts said that a national strike
(reftel) is unlikely for now. End summary.

2. Most secondary teachers in Israel have been striking off
and on since April 2007 over low wages, large classes, and
increased work loads. This fall's SSTO strike has been far
and away the longest teachers' strike since at least 1978,
according to Shlomo Maital of Technion Institute of
Management in a recent Jerusalem Report article. The
elementary teachers' union settled their strike in 2006 for a
26% wage increase over five years, but that came with an
increase in both class size and number of classes taught, two
major elements of the proposed changes to the educational
system that the SSTO has rejected. (Members of a smaller
secondary teachers' union accepted those conditions when they
settled with the government in 2006. The Government has run
some expensive newspaper ads with members of the smaller
union extolling the deal, while at the same other members of
the smaller union have been out demonstrating in support of
the SSTO and against the deal their union struck.)

3. SSTO leader Erez told LRO that GOI education funding and
policies are bringing down the historically high level of
Israeli schools. Recent media reports have echoed that
alarm, citing declining test scores by Israeli students. For
example, a December 4 Jerusalem Post report said that Israeli
students ranked 40th out of 57 countries that took part in an
international examination of reading, math and science for
15-year-olds. A related concern is that the financial
struggles and personal frustrations facing many teachers are
driving the best ones out of the profession -- or dissuading
them from entering it in the first place. A December 6
Haaretz article told the story of a 32 year old teacher of
children with severe learning disabilities whose salary is
approximately $1,300 a month -- extremely low wages in an
expensive country like Israel -- and is currently supporting
himself as a waiter. The article describes him as feeling
defeated and humiliated, and unsure as to whether he will
defy the court's back-to-work order. It is unclear not only
how many of the teachers will return to work this month as
ordered, but how many might choose to never return to work at
all.

4. According to media reports, the two sides reached an
agreement in principal during December 10 meetings that would
have the teachers return to work -- without a court order --
on December 13, following the Hanukah holiday. Lost school
days will apparently be returned to students during the
Passover holiday and summer vacation. The agreement includes
reduced class sizes and more teaching hours, and a modest but
immediate 8.5 percent wage increase that could rise to a 26
percent raise as part of a broader reform that is still being
negotiated. Meetings between the Government and the SSTO
continued on December 11. Olmert - who did not meet Erez
until a December 9 ceremony to light Hanukah candles - warned
at a December 2 cabinet meeting that a wage hike would not be
"gratuitous," meaning more teaching hours.

5. Comment. Recent polls suggest that 64% of the public
supported the teachers' position, and more than 100,000
parents and other backers gathered at a November 17 rally in
support of the teachers. The public support does not seem to
have led to much political support, however. PM Olmert's
latest reported offer of an 8.5 per cent wage increase would
still leave the salary for new teachers below the poverty
line. If the reported agreement stands, the teachers will
back to work, although a final agreement would still need to
be worked out. The question of whether all the teachers will
return, and whether the SSTO membership will consider the
agreement a satisfactory response to the demands they have
were willing to shut down the schools for almost two months


in support of, remains to be seen. End comment.

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JONES

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