Israel's social workers, treasury fail to reach agreement over wages
Representatives of the state treasury met with union leaders for two hours Monday morning in an abortive attempt to end a strike by social workers over wages, the newspaper Haaretz reported.
The social workers started their industrial action on Sunday, demanding a minimum salary increase of 30 percent, while the treasury offered a 20-percent pay rise to social workers on the lowest rung of the pay scale. It is likely that the two sides will reach a compromise agreement on this issue, although the social workers' other demand, to apply the ultimately agreed-upon raise to social workers in the private-sector, stands at the center of the conflict.
The Finance Ministry has thus far refused to agree to this particular demand, insisting on only aiding the social workers who receive the lowest pay, prohibiting the labor union to use the money as it sees fit.
Union leaders were disappointed Monday with the result of the meeting, saying that since the Finance Ministry has yet to agree to grant raises to public-sector social workers, they cannot move forward.
The Finance Ministry said in a statement, "Each side presented its demands, and ministry officials will return to Jerusalem for consultations with Finance Minister [Yuval Steinitz]. A new meeting to continue negotiations has yet to be scheduled, but the goal is to end the social workers' strike."
Hundreds of social workers from all over the north demonstrated Sunday at Mahanayim Junction, near Hatzor Haglilit, in support of the strikers' demands. They were joined by hundreds of social work students from Tel Hai College. The demonstrators, wearing red shirts and red armbands, blocked Route 90 for quite some time, but the police showed restraint and did not attempt to confront them.
Some of the slogans heard Sunday were clearly inspired by the recent revolutions sweeping the Arab world. "We want air like in Tahrir Square," went one chant, referring to the Cairo plaza that served as the center of Egypt's revolution.
"With such miserable wages, you can't even live in Libya," went another - which, like the first, rhymes in Hebrew.
Prof. Eli Leventhal of Tel Hai College, one of the demonstrators, said the social workers' battle is aimed at strengthening Israeli society.
"The prime minister, back when he was finance minister, decided to strengthen the Israeli billionaires, out of a belief that the strength of a society depends on the strong," Leventhal said. "But we believe it's exactly the opposite: You have to strengthen the weak, because they are the ones who give the state strength."