ISRAEL: University lecturers strike over salary erosion

Five months after Israel’s university and college students’ strike was resolved, the country’s university lecturers launched their own open-ended strike, thereby preventing the start of the academic year last week.

The bone of contention was the same: a NIS1.2 billion (US$300 million) cut from the higher education budget that Israeli students had been protesting about – a cut the Israeli government promised to restore over a four-year period. But lecturers were also specifically concerned about the raise they should get and how to set up a mechanism to prevent future salary erosion.

The current strike affects some 4,500 academic staff working at seven universities in Israel. The academics are divided into four groups: lecturers, senior lecturers, associate professors and full professors with the salary for a full professor amounting to only NIS25,000 or US$6,100 a month.

“It is inconceivable that the salaries of senior academic staff who are Israel’s strategic-economic spearhead should be eroded so severely,” said Professor Zvi Hacohen, chairman of the lecturers’ coordinating committee.

Professor Asher Cohen, who heads the lecturers’ union at the Hebrew University, said that lecturers’ wages had eroded by 15% since their last strike in 2001.

Despite discussions between representatives of the lecturers’ coordinating committee, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the head of the Finance Ministry’s wages division, the dispute has not been resolved.

Unlike previous disputes, the strike includes graduate studies and affects the country’s seven research universities. However, the university gates were far from locked and one associate professor at the Hebrew University said he was still continuing with his publication work during the strike.

“We don’t care about the immediate compensation,” Hacohen said. “It’s not as if we are going hungry. What’s important to us is to get a promise of a mechanism to prevent future erosion of our wages.”