A collective agreement over the employment terms of teachers at the Rosh Ha’ayin music center was signed today, Jan. 4, 2016, after lengthy negotiations. Mayor Shalom Ben Moshe, who is also chair of the organization which runs the music center, signed the agreement this morning with the Independent Trade Union Centre WAC-MAAN and the Workers’ Committee of the music teachers. The agreement will be applied retroactively from January 2015.
For the first time, the music teachers will receive wages for the month of August, including paid vacation. The wage scale will now take seniority into account, as well as academic qualifications and experience, so that experienced teachers whose wages failed to reflect their professional contribution will now be fairly remunerated. This scale also offers a clear promotional path for their younger colleagues. In addition, the agreement includes increased wage supplements for conducting (choirs and orchestras).
The agreement is welcome news for many music teachers who were not officially classified as professionals, who studied and worked for years as “service providers” lacking all social benefits. Many music and art teachers in Israel work in centers run by local authorities and within schools, yet their wages are paid by the hour, without compensation for sickness, holidays or dismissal. In addition, many are not paid during the summer recess, when activities are suspended for two or even three months, which leaves them in a precarious financial position and disrupts continuous employment (a precondition for certain benefits in Israel).
Orit Guri Zulotov, a Workers’ Committee member at the Rosh Ha’ayin Music Center, noted, “I am extremely happy to continue my work in music without the disturbing thought that I am not being fairly paid, and without the cloud of labor disputes or strikes hanging over me. I am proud of our achievement and that of WAC-MAAN, and I very much hope that all music teachers in Israel will take this precedent another step forward—and unionize.”
The agreement was made possible by two factors: on one hand, a determined group of teachers who decided to go all the way with their struggle, and on the other, the organizational and legal direction provided by WAC-MAAN throughout the struggle.
The agreement was not easily reached. The teachers set up the committee and joined WAC-MAAN way back in May 2013. At first, the Rosh Ha’ayin municipality refused to negotiate, using the approaching local elections as an excuse. After a labor dispute was declared, negotiations were scheduled for September 2013, but in October of that year the mayor was replaced and the process ground to a halt.
In January 2014, WAC-MAAN again declared a labor dispute and demanded negotiations with the new municipal leadership. The teachers and students gave a public concert in front of town hall to protest the way the municipality was dragging its feet. The teachers were under huge pressure to cancel the concert and avoid causing discomfort to the new mayor, but eventually they were invited into town hall where the mayor, Shalom Ben Moshe, declared that he would correct the historical injustice and sign a fair wage agreement.
In October 2014, another labor dispute was declared after the municipality submitted a draft agreement which was very different from principles that had been previously agreed on, and which in fact granted no wage increases at all. Following a two-day strike and debates at the Tel Aviv Labor Court, an accord was finally reached in December 2014 over the economic terms of the agreement.
However, further legal hurdles were then raised, which deferred the signing of the draft to June 2015. Since the agreement required the approval of the Finance Ministry’s wages officer, the final signing was further postponed until the signature could be obtained. When the approval was finally granted in November, the municipality refused to sign and a labor dispute was declared for the fourth time. Finally, the pressure led to the signing on January 4, 2016.
This long path to the agreement postponed the signing, but the wage supplements will be applied retroactively from January 1, 2015, so the teachers in effect receive compensation for the delay. These are significant supplements, and the wage scale is particularly important since it ensures the employment stability and security that were sorely lacking.
WAC-MAAN representatives are very satisfied with the results. They believe the Rosh Ha’ayin agreement will open the way to unionizing in dozens of centers around the country, where music teachers are employed on precarious terms for low wages. WAC-MAAN, which represents teachers in a number of colleges of art, photography and media, welcomes the music teachers today. Most of the thousands of teachers in such centers are Jewish, middle-class and educated, and some are well known artists in their own right, but nonetheless they are still subject to poor employment conditions. Unionization is the solution to this contradiction between their public image and status on the one hand, and their employment terms and the attitudes of employers (including municipalities and public organizations) on the other. WAC-MAAN’s doors are open to all teachers who experience the destructive results of the neoliberal capitalism currently dominant everywhere.
It should be noted that during this long struggle, WAC-MAAN was accompanied by Atty. Aya Bartenstein, its legal advisor, and assisted by Attys. Moran Savurai and Amir Basha.