Despite pay increase proposal, striking FM workers hold out

Chairman of Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee calls salaries "pathetic."

Danny Ayalon 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
Danny Ayalon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
In the shadow of the decision by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev to cancel his visit to Israel due to the strike by Foreign Ministry workers, the Knesset held an emergency hearing Wednesday on the ongoing labor dispute.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Foreign Ministry director-general Rafi Barak and workers’ representatives all attended the stormy meeting of the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud), who initiated the hearing, decried what he described as the “pathetic” salaries earned by ministries employees.
“The damage that is being caused as a result of the strike harms national security,” Katz said. “The Treasury must begin serious negotiations with workers’ representatives.
I intend to discuss this with the prime minister, and get him involved.”
During the hearing, workers’ representatives threatened to “turn off the lights” at the ministry and to increase their struggle, including by refusing to respond to activities against Israel across the world, and especially in the United Nations, not helping Israelis stranded overseas without passports, and refusing to aid in the presentation of public documents overseas.
The representatives complained that their base salaries had not been updated in 17 years, and that the lowest base salary in the ministry lies below minimum wage at NIS 2,850 a month. According to Hanan Goder, chairman of the workers’ council at the Foreign Ministry, 12 percent of employees are below the poverty line, while some receive welfare funds.
After 20 years at the ministry, complained Goder, he earns NIS 9,800.
But Treasury representative Nir Reis accused Foreign Ministry employees of “choosing to show the media pay-slips from months in which they did not work additional hours or receive refunds for expenses.” Reis said that the only recourse was to go to an agreed mediation.
Reis’s comments raised an uproar among MKs, with Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) announcing that “mediation will happen over our dead bodies” and Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu) accusing the Treasury of “once again holding workers hostage, refusing to negotiate with them until the dispute is over.”
Ayalon, a former ministry employee, called on the workers’ council to adopt the Finance Ministry’s proposal, which he said was written with the cooperation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
That proposal includes a NIS 3,000 grant, pay additions that include a 6.5% increase to salaries, increases of up to 15% for those with master’s degrees, and additions of up to 14.75% for workers who have served at least six years overseas.
Ministry workers, however, are still holding out for negotiations with the Treasury.
“How much additional damage must be caused before the Finance Ministry agrees to negotiate with the workers?” concluded Katz.
“My committee will continue to hold hearings on this labor dispute,” he promised.
Meanwhile, the Slovenian Embassy said Wednesday that Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor did not cancel his visit, as Foreign Ministry officials have said since the beginning of the week.
Pahor is expected to arrive on January 25.
Another leader, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who was scheduled to arrive next Tuesday, is, however, not expected to be coming as planned because of the work sanctions. She will be joining Medvedev, who already informed Israel that he was cancelling his visit originally scheduled for January 17.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.