ISRAEL: Lecturers’ strike remains unresolved

Efforts by senior university academics and Finance Ministry representatives to resolve a dispute behind a 45-day-old stalemated lecturers’ strike over salary increases that has crippled Israel’s universities since October, have failed despite some progress.

Professor Zvi Cohen, chairman of the lecturers’ coordinating committee, reported that good progress had been made: “We reached an understanding but not all the issues have been settled,” Cohen said.

Professor Moshe Kaveh, president of Bar-Ilan University and chairman of the Committee of University Presidents, said he intended to continue with the negotiations until solutions were found to the outstanding issues that would enable the strike to end.

“We have reached a red line,” Kaveh said. “If the strike does not end soon there is a danger that academic studies will be cancelled for the first time in the history of the state.”

While senior faculty are claiming their salaries have been eroded by 35%, Treasury officials say that wages have only lost 3% of their value. But senior lecturers are demanding their salaries be restored to their 1997 value, while Finance Ministry officials are insisting the lecturers’ salary erosion be calculated from 2001 when the last collective wage agreement expired.

Representatives of the two sides also disagree how to calculate the wage erosion. The lecturers argue their wages must be compared with public sector employees’ salaries and the average national wage while the Treasury says the erosion must be examined in relation to the consumer price index.

A Finance Ministry source said earlier: “The professors have climbed on a very high horse and now nobody is willing to admit they’ve made a mistake.”

Hebrew University president Menahem Magidor disagreed that the lecturers’ wages had eroded by 35%, citing a 14% drop instead.

As the parties were approaching an agreement (which would be binding and would ensure there would be no strikes during this period), some lecturers wanted to broaden the strike to include other issues besides wage erosion.