Israel's universities have again been hit by strikes. Several thousand junior academic staff say they will not return to work until the university heads committee recognises their union. Laboratory work and lectures in all five of Israel's universities at Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bar-Ilan, and Beersheva are affected.
After a first semester peppered with industrial action, the latest dispute stems from recent pay and conditions agreements between the lecturers' main union and the universities that have done little to improve the lot of junior lecturing staff.
Many juggle their time between research for further degrees and lecturing or tutorial support. Some reports say that the juniors have just had pay cuts of up to 50 per cent.
The university heads committee has repeatedly refused to recognise the junior lecturer union. Even intervention from the Knesset Labour and Welfare committee, which urged the universities to talk to the junior lecturers, failed to bring a policy change. The universities are sticking to the current pay contract as a binding deal that bans new talks until January 1997.
Shmuel Chen, chairman of the junior lecturers' organisation, claimed that the main lecturers' union was not representing the interests of junior staff. Pointing out the widening pay gap between seniors and juniors, he said that "if the situation does not change, only the rich will be able to advance to the senior ranks".
Several universities were reported to be addressing the concerns of junior staff but would not talk to the new union until it held internal elections. A Haifa University statement stressed its "readiness to solve genuine problems experienced by some groups of lecturers", but added that "the university will not co-operate with unofficial worker representatives".
Support on the first day of the stoppage was reported as strong although estimates of how many lecturers were involved differ widely. The universities claimed there was little disruption with other staff used to plug any serious gaps in teaching and supervision.
Meanwhile, the universities have obtained a temporary injunction against the strikers, forcing them back to work. The courts may have brought a temporary halt to the strike but have also incensed the junior lecturers and prompted some of their more senior colleagues to voice support for a better deal.