ISRAEL: Agreement ends 79-day senior lecturer strike

After an unprecedented 79-day strike and just before the ‘loss’ of an entire semester, senior lecturers at Israeli universities reached an 11th-hour agreement with Treasury officials and will be awarded a 24% pay hike to make up for salary erosion. Economists have estimated that the strike, which affected 4,500 academics working at seven universities and many more students, could have cost the economy up to six billion shekels (US$1.5 billion).

The pay agreement came after weeks of attempts to end the strike by representatives of the lecturers’ coordinating committee, the Committee of University Heads, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the Heads of the Finance Ministry wages division.

While senior faculty claimed their salaries had been eroded by 35% since 1997, university presidents had proposed that lecturers receive only 21% compensation.

Finally, Histadrut Labour Federation Chair Ofer Eini interceded, suggesting a compromise of 24% compensation, which was accepted by the lecturers. While the lecturers had hoped to receive the money immediately, Finance Ministry officials were only willing to have the payments distributed over two years.

It was not salary dissatisfaction that initially prompted lecturers to begin striking three months ago, but a NIS1.2 billion (US$300 million) cut from the higher education budget that Israeli students had been protesting about earlier – a cut the Israeli government promised to restore over a four-year period.

But lecturers were also very concerned about the raise they should get and how to set up a mechanism to prevent future salary erosion.

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 (US$6,100) a month. Associate professors at Israeli universities receive as little as NIS 7,000 (US$1,890) after tax a month.

Over and above the damage to the economy, students have suffered from the strike – to make up for the disruption of classes during the strike, studies will continue into August, way past the start of the usual long summer holiday.