Elkin, Foreign Ministry workers trade barbs over labor dispute

Deputy foreign minister bad-mouthed union leaders for the way they handled a recent work dispute, which badly impaired the ministry’s operations.

Ze'ev Elkin 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ze'ev Elkin 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Bad blood between Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu) and the ministry’s workers committee spilled into the open Monday when Elkin bad-mouthed its leaders for the way they handled a recent work dispute, which badly impaired the ministry’s operations.
“The Foreign Ministry’s workers committee does not understand the limit of its power,” Elkin said Monday at a conference of jurists in Tel Aviv. “The workers committee needs to deal with the work conditions of the workers, but it cannot run the company.
The minute it demands to run the office it is derelict in its duty.”
Elkin was referring to the work dispute over wages and working conditions that the committee declared in February, which resulted in sanctions that severely hampered the functioning of both the ministry and the consular services it provides abroad. The sanctions were frozen earlier this month when the committee and the Treasury agreed to a Labor Court decision to take the dispute to mediation.
Elkin also took the Finance Ministry to task, saying Treasury officials had made it impossible to solve significant problems in government office working conditions without employees taking aggressive action, such as strikes. He said paralysis due to work disputes could be prevented by establishing compulsory arbitration mechanisms.
The NRG website reported Elkin as saying that the Foreign Ministry workers committee had needlessly harmed Israeli citizens by refusing to provide consular services during the sanctions period.
“Many citizens were stuck abroad without passports, and the workers were not willing to issue them new ones,” he said.
“There is no justification for an Israeli citizen having the status of ‘Prisoner of Zion’ abroad only because foreign ministry workers are interested in improving their conditions and salaries.”
“Prisoner of Zion” was the term used to describe Jewish citizens of the former Soviet Union who had been denied premission to leave for Israel.
Elkin, in an illustration apparently meant to demonstrate the undue power of the workers committee, said he had been shocked to find upon assuming his position that ministry workers were entitled to a full lunch each day in the ministry cafeteria for only a token fee.
“When I took over my job I asked why this was,” he said.
“They told me that it is an old tradition. It turns out that when [then] foreign minister [Yitzhak] Shamir wanted to appoint a consul to Washington, the workers committee opposed it. They negotiated and extorted from the management an agreement to subsidize lunch so that the worker only has to pay NIS 5. That has not changed to this day.”
The workers committee issued a statement rejecting Elkin’s comments. It said it had acted with “extreme care and responsibility throughout the labor dispute while doing its best not to unnecessarily harm citizens.”
The statement said that “issues of national importance,” such as the visit to Israel by US President Barack Obama, visits by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Britain and China, as well as Elkin’s own visits abroad, had been excluded from the sanctions.
“For more than a year before the labor dispute we raised our hardships and problems [with the ministry management] but received no response,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, our demands began being addressed only after the labor dispute was declared and we took sanctions, and there is still a long way to go.”
The statement added that the decision to suspend the sanctions during the current mediation process was evidence that the committee has led the dispute responsibly.