Protest banners on Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem: The fight for home starts abroad.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The crippling, 11-day Foreign Ministry strike that closed embassies abroad and prevented high-profile visits both to and from Israel ended on Wednesday evening as the Treasury and ministry’s workers committee signed a labor agreement.
“We are happy that the State of Israel understood the difficulties Israel’s fighters abroad need to deal with, and are sorry for the needless hardships caused. Tomorrow Israel’s fighters abroad will return to serve on Israel’s global front lines,” the committee said.
The strike, the first of its kind in the state’s history, was the culmination of a labor dispute that stretched back to the beginning of 2013 over salaries and work conditions for diplomats serving at the ministry in Jerusalem and abroad. The full-scale strike followed by some three weeks crippling labor actions that saw Israel without representation at countless meetings around the world for the past month, and left scores of Israelis without badly needed consular services.
According to the workers committee, the agreement includes “important solutions for some of the problems facing the foreign service.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman welcomed the end of the strike, saying the document signed was “a good agreement” that would “create a new work model that provides for the professional needs of the Foreign Ministry, and an economic model that provides for the needs of the workers at all pay grades in the ministry.”
He regretted that this came about only after causing harm to the wider public, which suffered from the strike.
First, wages for diplomats abroad will be determined in an “agreed and transparent manner according to an updated mechanism” that takes into consideration the rising cost of living overseas.
This way, the committee said, there will be a brake on the erosion of salaries abroad that was one of the key reasons for the strike.
A mechanism was established to deal with compensation for spouses of diplomats who often sacrifice careers and lose pension benefits to join their wives or husbands abroad.
The workers received a pay increase “so that they will get a little closer to their colleagues in the defense and intelligence communities, although there is still a gap that will need to be bridged in the future,” the committee said.
In addition, more support will be provided to the families of diplomats abroad, including reimbursement for education costs and job retraining for spouses.
The chairman of the workers committee, Yair Frommer, said the agreement included “a number of significant achievements. I hope that the signed agreement will make it possible for us to continue to recruit into our ranks the best workers in the public sector.”
The agreement is based on four “pillars.” The first is creating a new model for sending emissaries abroad that will give the Foreign Ministry greater management control. The second is strengthening pension plans around the family unit, as befits the unique lifestyle of the members of the foreign service.
The third pillar is to improve service conditions abroad, and provide financial assistance for going abroad, especially to hardship countries. Finally, they agreed to shorten the time required to advance from junior status.
“After long negotiations, we have arrived at an agreement that will strengthen the foreign service and aid the country’s emissaries in the world who work at length in the Israeli diplomatic service,” said Kobi Amsalem, director of the Wages Department at the Finance Ministry.
Avi Nissenkoren, the head of the Histadrut labor federation’s trade division and the federation’s presumptive next chairman, praised the agreement, saying it “strengthens the welfare of Israel’s emissaries who do their job day and night for the sake of their country, far from home.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) called it unfortunate that it took the prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister so long to deal with the strike.
“In the last month, damage was caused to Israel in a number of areas, including Israel’s image in the world,” Herzog said.
MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said that the details of the deal showed the strike could have ended long ago and that he was glad the Knesset gave the final push to end it and restart Israel’s activity in the international arena.
The Foreign Ministry workers embarked on the strike on March 23, shuttering embassies around the world after two years of the labor dispute, seven months of mediation efforts and three weeks of work sanctions.
The workers said that their salaries, which ranged from NIS 6,000 to NIS 13,000 a month for lower-level employees and as high as €10,000 (about NIS 48,000) a month for ambassadors in places such as Germany, were not sufficient. The higher salaries, they noted, are subject to high taxes and are used to fund secure vehicles and entertain guests.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.