Diplomats fighting for their rights

We, workers of the Foreign Service, often can't make ends meet, which is why we have taken strong measures and used strong language in our latest labor dispute with the Finance Ministry.

By YAAKOV LIVNEH
January 5, 2011 23:00
2 minute read.
Diplomats gathered at Foreign Ministry

Diplomats at Foreign Ministry 311 (do not publish again). (photo credit: Flash 90)

 
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Diplomats are always seen as polite, soft-spoken, seeking accommodation and conciliatory. And yet, the diplomats of Israel’s Foreign Service are in a feisty mood these days, taking strong measures and using tough language in a labor dispute. Militant diplomats?!

The reasons are clear.

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The devoted and multi-talented diplomats of the Foreign Service have been taken for granted for too long. The salaries of young as well as veteran diplomats are dismal. Twelve percent of the Foreign Service lives below the country’s poverty line, and 25% receives welfare supplements. We are talking about people who have language skills, broad knowledge in many areas, and serve their country through thick and thin, at home and abroad.

Our diplomats overseas face hostility and security threats, but in recent years often cannot make ends meet. Diplomacy abroad does not consist of cocktail parties (which are only a tiny fraction of any diplomats’ activities). Diplomacy abroad is a vast array of intensive activities on behalf of the State of Israel.

The diplomats represent the country on the front lines of the international arena. Those who are in Jerusalem provide the backing, logistics, policy guidance and instructions for activities abroad, as well as activities here. They are loyal to the country, and more than willing to make great sacrifices, including those made by their spouses and children.

But is the government loyal to its diplomats?

THE SITUATION and salary conditions have deteriorated greatly over the past 15 years or so. Several attempts to find solutions vis-à-vis the Finance Ministry have met with a solid wall of obtuse deafness. Finally this year, a labor dispute was declared. Even then, for several months the diplomats took only minimal steps to give negotiations with the Finance Ministry a chance. Finally a proposal was made by the Finance Ministry. To say it was insulting and contemptuous is putting it mildly. The proposal would leave many sections of the diplomatic corps with only a few crumbs to add to their salaries.

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We diplomats want the labor sanctions to end. We very much want to get back to our work, with the dedication and intensity we have always shown. But we are not virtual slaves; no one works for practically nothing. Certainly it will be difficult to attract new members to the Foreign Service if all they have to look forward to is lousy pay and growing frustration.

For us to do our duty, the government should do its duty and properly address our needs.

The writer is head of the diplomatic employees workers’ committee. He served as spokesperson in the Israeli embassy in Moscow and as a consultant at our embassy in Berlin.

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