Foreign Ministry sanctions end, Merkel visit to go on

Diplomats reach agreement on labor dispute that saw various foreign leaders cancel visits to Israel; Mofaz chides PM over lack of involvement.

Diplomats at Foreign Ministry 311 (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Diplomats at Foreign Ministry 311 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
Foreign Ministry diplomatic workers ended their nearly yearlong work sanctions on Monday morning, and immediately began preparing for next week’s visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The visit of Merkel and nine members of her cabinet for a joint government meeting with the Israeli cabinet was very much in doubt until the end of the sanctions. The sanctions had led to the cancellation of a planned visit last week by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
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The workers, who were fighting to equalize their salary terms with employees in the Defense Ministry and the Mossad, agreed to what amounted to a 10 percent to 20% pay increase, depending on each individual’s situation.
Although the increase was well under the 42% that the workers had originally asked for, Yaakov Livne, one of the heads of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic workers’ committee, said the agreement was “good, not perfect, but good. This doesn’t answer everything, but will be the basis for future agreements.”
While the agreement deals with the salary of the workers when they are in Israel, it does not deal with their salaries abroad, which is an issue Livne said would still have to be addressed in the future.
Asked whether he was concerned that the strike had damaged the country’s foreign relations and the reputation of its Foreign Service, Livne said that when doctors strike, sick people are affected; when firemen strike, innocent people suffer; and the same is the case when there is a strike in the Foreign Service.
“The real question is whether we have a right to strike,” he said. “But if not, then we should get the same compensation as those in the defense establishment who can’t strike.”
The strike did not only impact on trips of dignitaries traveling to and from Israel; consular services given to thousands of Israelis here and abroad were affected.
A final sticking point that held up the agreement for nearly a week had to do with a demand by the Foreign Ministry management that an outside evaluation committee be established to evaluate workers on a periodic basis, to judge whether they were worthy of major promotions.
It was agreed that this matter would not be linked to the salary agreement, but would be discussed at a later date.
The strike ended the same morning that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee took up the issue at its weekly meeting. Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the committee, criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s handling of the labor dispute, saying that he was helping damage Israel’s foreign relations.
Netanyahu is “ignoring the labor dispute and is acting as if it is in another country,” Mofaz said, adding that Israel’s foreign relations have never been at a “lower point.”