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Immigrant Teachers Sue Finance Ministry for Veteran Bonus

May 21, 2010. Haaretz: Cnaan Liphshiz

Immigrant teachers recently sued the Ministry of Finance for NIS 10.5 million, which they claim they deserve because of their experience teaching in their countries of origin. The class action suit was filed this month at the Tel Aviv Labor Court by a lawyer representing some 400 veteran teachers who immigrated to Israel over the past 25 years.

In the lawsuit, the teachers contest the ministry's decision to disregard their time teaching in their countries of origin in determining their eligibility for a bonus allocated to veteran teachers. Most claimants hail from the former Soviet Union, but at least a dozen of them are from English-speaking countries.

The main issue in the lawsuit is the fact that the claimants' years teaching abroad do not count in determining their eligibility for the Education Ministry's entitlement for teachers with over 25 years in the formal education system. "In calculating their salaries, the state does recognize pedagogic experience acquired outside Israel," noted the group's lawyer, Shlomo Bechor. "Yet when it comes to the 25-year grant, the ministry suddenly refuses to recognize it."

The 25-year bonus is a one-time payout to all state-employees equivalent to 60 percent of the teacher's monthly salary. At first, the lawsuit was directed against the Education Ministry, but was redrafted after the Education Ministry said it supported giving the claimants' the grant, and that the Finance Ministry would not approve it.

A spokesperson for the Finance Ministry said that while the inclusion of past experience abroad was an "important principle" in calculating pay, the bonus was intended for "state employees to reward them for their work for Israel and for services rendered to Israel." Therefore, she said, time spent providing services in other countries cannot count in calculating eligibility for the grant.

The labor court is expected to rule on this matter within a few months.

Dorothy Azoulay, an English teacher with 20 years of experience who immigrated to Israel from Boston in 2005, does not accept the Finance Ministry's argument. "The state is not a private employer who can dish out bonuses as it pleases," said Azoulay, who lives in Hod Hasharon. "It needs to do so according to its own pay standards and regulations. When it fails to do that, it's called injustice or even discrimination." Azoulay is one of the claimants on the lawsuit.

Ilana Rothstein, who emigrated from Johannesburg 20 years ago after teaching there for seven years, takes a more understanding view of the government's position. "There is a duality here on the part of the state," says Rothstein, who has taught English and music at two elementary schools and one junior high in the Sharon area. "But one cannot expect to win a bonus from one country for services provided for another."

Teachers were made eligible for the 25-year benefit last year, in talks with the treasury. Before that, they were only eligible after 30 years of service.

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