Foreign Ministry workers stop helping babies born to surrogates in protest

“The responsibility for harming the citizens of Israel is on the shoulders of those who ignore the... demand to allow Foreign Ministry workers to do their jobs under fair and appropriate conditions."

 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 stopped registering babies born to Israeli families via surrogates in the US, Colombia and Georgia on Monday to protest their work conditions.

The Foreign Ministry Workers Union said it had launched sanctions ahead of going on a full strike, following months of protests and negotiations.

Most Israelis seeking surrogate services go to one of those three countries.

The Foreign Ministry workers also stopped providing visas to enter Israel in the Philippines, India and Nepal for nurses and agricultural workers.

“Continuing to ignore all of our calls leaves us no choice,” the union said in a statement. It called on the public to follow the news and the union’s social-media accounts for additional sanctions to be taken in the coming days.

 FOREIGN MINISTRY employees protest against their working conditions. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) FOREIGN MINISTRY employees protest against their working conditions. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The workers planned to disrupt consular services in Jerusalem on Tuesday, the union said.

“The responsibility for harming the citizens of Israel is on the shoulders of those who ignore the justified demand to allow Foreign Ministry workers to do their jobs under fair and appropriate conditions,” it said.

The union has been in a labor dispute with the ministry in recent months over pay cuts and deteriorating work conditions. Overtime pay has been eliminated, though many workers must be in contact with Israeli embassies and consulates in distant time zones, in addition to working on local time, the union said.

The workers are paid for two “on-call” days per month, but many of them need to be available 24 hours a day throughout the month, it said. In recent weeks, the union ordered workers to stop working past regular hours in protest.

Earlier this month, Foreign Ministry workers raised a black flag on the ministry’s flagpole, carrying signs with slogans such as “Don’t rely on us” and “You can’t pay for groceries with patriotism.”

When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov canceled his trip to Israel last month, officially for personal reasons, the union said it was because Foreign Ministry workers had refused to help make arrangements.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s lack of action on their demands was hurting Israel’s foreign relations, the union said. It released a satirical video in which an actor portraying Lapid said he “embraces” the Foreign Ministry workers. When asked what he was going to do to help them, he said he would embrace them more.

The Foreign Ministry’s budget has faced continuous cuts, according to the 2020 State Comptroller’s Report. In 2019, its budget dropped to NIS 1.385 billion, even though its necessary expenses were NIS 1.53b., the report said. The budgets of all government ministries increased an average of 5.7% in 2019, compared with 2018, but the Foreign Ministry’s decreased 14.7%, it said.

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

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

They now have to pay more for language lessons, which are needed to work in Israeli embassies and consulates around the world, it said, adding that the state also pays less for the education of their children.