Foreign Ministry workers raise black flag in protest

“The workers are not asking for a raise; they want the rights that were taken from them.”

 Foreign Ministry workers protesting their work conditions, January 2, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Foreign Ministry workers protesting their work conditions, January 2, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Foreign Ministry workers raised a black flag on the ministry’s flagpole on Sunday morning, to protest their work conditions.

Over 100 employees stood outside the ministry building with signs reading slogans like “don’t rely on us” and “you can’t pay for groceries with patriotism.”

As of last week, the Foreign Ministry Workers Union members stopped working past regular hours, because they are not paid overtime. The instruction went out in a special cable to Israeli missions abroad.

The Foreign Ministry Workers Union leadership said “it pains us to see the foreign minister choose to ignore the cries of Foreign Ministry workers who are dedicated to their jobs, instead of leading the way to a resolution and negotiations.”

“We will shut down the Foreign Ministry if we need to,” Jerusalem Histadrut Labor Union chairman Dani Bonfil said. “Workers are not asking for a raise; they want the rights that were taken from them. We will go all the way to protect the workers’ rights.”

AERIAL VIEW of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, August 3, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)AERIAL VIEW of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, August 3, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In recent weeks, the Workers Union escalated its rhetoric and tactics, after it gave Foreign Minister Yair Lapid a chance to improve their conditions.

When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov canceled his trip to Israel last month, officially for personal reasons, the union claimed it was because Foreign Ministry workers refused to handle his trip, and said that Lapid’s lack of action on their demands was hurting Israel’s foreign relations.

The union also released a satirical video in which an actor portraying Lapid said that he “embraces” the Foreign Ministry workers, but when asked what he was going to do to help them, all he said was that he would embrace them more.

The Foreign Ministry’s budget has faced continuous cuts, which the state comptroller pointed out in a critical report in 2020. In 2019, the budget dropped to NIS 1.385 billion, even though the ministry’s necessary expenses were NIS 1.53b. The budgets of all government ministries increased by an average of 5.7% in 2019, compared to 2018, but the Foreign Ministry’s dropped 14.7%.

Foreign Ministry workers have carried the brunt of these cuts. Overtime pay has been eliminated, though many must be in contact with Israeli embassies and consulates in distant time zones, in addition to working on local time. They are paid for only two “on-call” days per month, whereas in reality many of them need to be available 24 hours a day throughout the month.

As for workers abroad, the union reported that COVID-19 has added to the workload of those working in consular services, who have to deal with requests to enter Israel, adding many hours of work that they are not paid for.

While the union and the Salary and Employment Agreements Department of the Finance Ministry reached an agreement in 2017 to raise salaries in the Foreign Ministry – for the first time since 2000 – the union said payment for the expenses of diplomats posted abroad has been cut such that they are earning less than before.

They now have to pay more for language lessons, which are needed to work in Israeli embassies and consulates around the world, and the state pays less for the education of diplomats’ children.