Ambassadors to Lapid: Solve labor dispute or we’ll strike

The labor dispute has gone on for over six months with no resolution, and as such, there may be a full strike in the Foreign Ministry, they warned.

Foreign Minister and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Foreign Minister and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Foreign Ministry diplomats around the world might go on strike unless Foreign Minister Yair Lapid puts an end to the longstanding labor dispute within the ministry, more than 100 Israeli ambassadors and consuls wrote in a letter on Tuesday.

“The longer the dispute remains unresolved, the more the work in Israeli missions is seriously hampered,” the ambassadors wrote.

The labor dispute has gone on for over six months with no resolution, and as such, there might be a full strike in the Foreign Ministry, they warned.

The diplomats accused Finance Ministry bureaucrats of taking them for granted, while they say they want to continue their work abroad for the country at the same professional level as in the past.

“Without putting an end to the severe damage to the rights of our emissaries abroad, without... stopping the discrimination against emissaries of the Foreign Ministry as opposed to other ministries, without pay for overtime and on-call hours, without regular promotions, without concern for the spouses and families and without improved labor conditions for security and other staff, Foreign Ministry workers will continue to incur economic and personal harm and feel frustrated and bitter,” they wrote.

THE FOREIGN MINISTRY in Jerusalem. Israel’s foreign ministers and prime ministers have used their allotted appointments in different ways. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)THE FOREIGN MINISTRY in Jerusalem. Israel’s foreign ministers and prime ministers have used their allotted appointments in different ways. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

The Foreign Ministry Workers Union has taken various steps in embassies and consulates abroad over the past six months to protest working conditions. Israelis can no longer get new passports in New York, Miami, Germany, France and Australia, after their supply of passport books ran out. The embassies and consulates will not order new ones.

The Foreign Ministry stopped providing visas to Israel for nursing and agricultural workers from the Philippines, India and Nepal. In addition, consular workers will not register babies born to Israeli families via surrogates in the most popular countries for the process — the US, Colombia and Georgia. Cabinet ministers have to plan their own visits abroad and arrange their own meetings with foreign counterparts.

The union has been in a labor dispute with the ministry in recent months over working conditions and cuts to pay. 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. In January, the union ordered workers to stop working past regular hours in protest.

Budget cuts

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

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, such as language lessons and the education of their children, has been cut so drastically that they are earning less than before.