Secondary School Teachers’ Association head Ran Erez expressed cautious optimism about the chances of ending the eight-week-old strike after leaving another marathon negotiating session with the Education and Finance Ministries late Monday night.

The teachers’ union reportedly agreed to waive its demands for a pay hike beyond that achieved by other teachers, a raise of five percent, like that being received by workers covered by collective-bargaining agreements in other segments of the economy. The teachers’ union originally demanded a wage hike of 20 percent, a number which dropped first to 15 percent, then to 13.5 percent and most recently to 8.5 percent as the strike dragged on.

The greatly reduced salary raise would come in exchange for a reduction in class size from more than 40 down to 30 students. Estimates by government officials placed the price tag for smaller classrooms at NIS 1.5 billion.

The proposal, formulated with the help of Histadrut national labor federation head Ofer Eini, also requires the government to restore 8.5 hours that were cut from the school week, as well as what Erez called “realistic [education] reform." 

Some teachers expressed consternation at the lukewarm results their marathon strike has apparently achieved.

Interviewed on Channel 2, the union head was adamant that the teachers would not return to the classrooms without a deal on those three points. Teachers - and students - will apparently return the 48 school days lost in the strike during the Passover and summer vacations.

Erez says the government is studying the offer. He says government negotiators initially rejected the first two points and offered only the reforms agreed to last year by the Histadrut Hamorim teachers union for elementary schools.

Both sides returned to the negotiating table late Tuesday morning.

The National Labor Court issued a back-to-work order forcing the teachers to return to the classrooms on Thursday, at the end of the Chanukah vacation. The union is appealing the order to the High Court of Justice, pending the results of today's negotiations.  Many teachers had said they would quit altogether rather than teach under duress without a new contract.

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