The longest teachers' strike in the history of the Israeli educational system has finally come to its end Thursday, as the Middle and High School Teachers' Association, and the Finance and Education Ministries were able to reach an agreement.
"This is the final stretch," Ynet was told by sources close to the negotiations. Some 20 hours into the hectic negotiations, aimed at preventing the teachers' return to the classrooms under Labor Court injunction orders, the sides were finally able to declare "a major breakthrough."
The agreement reached is based on a compromise offered by Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut Labor Federation: Both sides agreed to implement a reform in the teachers' status, their pay in work hours within four months. Should the reform prove lengthy, two additional months were allocated.
The teachers will receive an 8.5% pay raise, paid over two terms – the first in January 2008 and the second one year later; both pending an increase in teaching hours.
The pay raise – given in addition to the 5% guaranteed pay raise to all workers of the public sector – is meant to enable the Education Ministry's school-system reform to take place.
Should the school-system reform prove successful, the teachers will ultimately be granted a 26% pay raise. Should the move fail, their 8.5% raise will be rescinded.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to give the teachers his personal guarantee that their demands to decrease the number of students per classroom and increasing classroom hours will be implemented. The government further agreed to present the teachers with an outline to that effect within 45 days.
The teachers will be reimbursed in full for the strike, in return for putting in the hours necessary to help their student catch-up on the material.
"This is a good agreement, the teachers have accomplished a great deal," Education Minister Yuli Tamir told Ynet. "The negotiating mood was intense, but good and at the end of the day we are very satisfied.
"What matters most," she added, "is that we were able to end the strike without having to implement the Labor Court's injunctions orders, just as I had promised the teaches."
The Education Ministry has begun planning ahead, trying to apply some damage control to what is left of the school year. The lost classroom hours are to be restored during the Passover vacation, and the school year itself – which usually ends at the middle and high school on June 20th, will end on June 30th.
The Education Ministry further plans to reschedule some of the matriculation exams and allow for afternoon classes to take place.
The strike's end, however was not considered good news by everyone: Dozens of teachers and teaching students protested the strike's end in front of the Ministry of Educations' Tel Aviv bureau, saying the agreement Ran Erez – head of the Teachers' Association – signed equaled stabbing them in the back.
"One man took it upon himself to make all the decisions on his own and has signed an agreement completely contrary to all the teachers' goals… this whole fight ended with nothing much," Amnon Hillel, one of the teachers protesting told Ynet.
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On told Ynet he was "pleased we were able to reach an agreement which would benefit the future of the children in Israel… this is an important agreement, which balances out the educational systems' needs with the government's responsible budgetary policies."
Tani Goldstein and Roi Mandel contributed to this report