MK Herzog speaks with Foreign Ministry union in effort to end sanctions

Workers end all assistance to foreign diplomats either in Israel or aboard.

By
June 26, 2013 21:33
3 minute read.
FOREIGN MINISTRY staff demonstrate near the Knesset, June 26, 2013

Foreign Ministry workers demonstrate 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Talks to end the Foreign Ministry workers’ sanctions may restart after MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) negotiated between their union and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin over the phone during a parliamentary question session on Wednesday.

MK Nachman Shai (Labor) asked Elkin about the strike and the continuing damage he said it causes to diplomatic efforts.

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Elkin explained that the strike was about conditions for Foreign Ministry workers abroad, and how much money they receive to pay rent and send their children to school, among other expenses.

“It’s no secret that our emissaries suffer [from lack of funding] and the Finance Ministry intended to fix this. The change has been delayed and significantly harmed the workers’ salaries,” he said.

The deputy minister listed the workers’ demands, singling out one – to have windows in their offices that open – as “amusing” and harmful to their cause because it is not serious.

“I support most of their demands and agree that there is a big problem with the salaries of those who are abroad,” he added. “We presented this stance to the finance minister, and he knows a solution must be found.”

Elkin called for the heads of the Foreign Ministry Workers’ Union to negotiate, saying that while talks may take a long time, the ministry favors discussing workers’ conditions.



The deputy minister also said there can only be an interim agreement this summer, because the finance minister is working on the state budget and won’t be as generous as he might be later.

Herzog called the head of the Foreign Ministry Workers’ Union while Elkin spoke, and he agreed to return to negotiations.

“The union wants to reach an agreement. One of the problems is the way the deputy minister speaks, which indicates condescension and that he does not take their demands seriously,” Herzog said.

Elkin responded that he won’t take back anything he said, and that if he receives an official response from the union, he will gladly plan a meeting with them. He added that MKs were welcome to try to mediate.

Shai said the government was not taking seriously enough the damage the sanctions were causing Israel’s image.

“Damages have accumulated in Israel’s foreign relations and in helping those in Israel and abroad who need consular aid, as well as contacts with foreign diplomats,” Shai explained.

The Labor MK called the sanctions a “catastrophe” and said the Foreign Ministry deserved special treatment.

At the end of the discussion, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein pointed out that a ceremony in honor of the Georgian prime minister’s visit was canceled due to the sanctions.

“Presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary speakers visit the Knesset as official guests. They’re important, and they do not receive a red carpet welcome, which they deserve according to protocol,” he complained.

As this was all taking place in the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry worker’s committee announced it was stepping up its sanctions, and from now on would stop assisting foreign diplomats either in Israel or abroad.

The move, the latest in a five-month battle for better salary and conditions, comes at the peak season for diplomats moving to and from Israel who are in need of the ministry’s assistance.

Some 6,000 foreign diplomats are stationed in Israel, and every summer there is a turnover rate of about 1,000 people.

According to a directive issued to all workers from the worker’s committee, all “ceremonial and protocol” services for foreign diplomats will end.

This includes not issuing entry permits for incoming diplomats, not issuing or renewing diplomatic ID cards for those already here, not releasing cars and lifts from the ports, and not processing documentation for ambassadors and military attaches stationed here.

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