Jerusalem Post Editorial: Counterproductive strike

The fight between the diplomatic service and the Finance Ministry over low pay has been ongoing for several years.

Protest banners on Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem: The fight for home starts abroad. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Protest banners on Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem: The fight for home starts abroad.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Foreign Ministry workers on Monday announced a labor action later in the week aimed at disrupting the upcoming visit by US President Donald Trump.
In a memo to all ministry employees in Israel and abroad, the head of the workers union, Hanan Goder – who is also the ambassador to South Sudan – said diplomats should not participate in any preparations for Trump’s visit.
The fight between the diplomatic service and the Finance Ministry over low pay has been ongoing for several years.
The diplomats argue that past agreements are not being honored and budgets are not being approved.
This week’s labor action follows so many previous ones that most Israelis are not surprised by it and might even support it, if not for its totally irresponsible timing. The historic first visit by President Trump must not be used as a bargaining chip in salary negotiations. Israel’s foreign relations are a matter of national security, and as such should be out of bounds to wage disputes.
The ministry’s workers union has yet to take this into account when campaigning for a collective raise. In July 2013, workers called a labor dispute that disrupted foreign appointments, including that of Israel’s new ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer.
The changes that workers expected from the strike were the same as today’s: salary increases based on the cost of living in countries where they serve and incentives to work in less attractive countries.
The situation escalated in the following year, with a general strike that lasted for some two weeks. As in the past, the labor action shuttered the country’s embassies and consulates throughout the world – and ended as expected with another evaporative agreement with Finance Ministry to increase pay and improve work conditions.
In January 2014, for example, the union and the Treasury came to an oral agreement on salaries that ended another strike, but no formal agreement was set down in writing and, as a result, there was no change in employment conditions.
An agreement signed the following March promised a new wage model within six months. Not only did that not happen, but adding insult to injury the Treasury asked the workers to redistribute the salary budget internally without any increase from the government.
The ever-escalating saga continued in 2015, when for the first time Israeli diplomats held hostage the arrangements for the meeting between Netanyahu and then-US president Barack Obama in Washington.
This week’s similar threat by Goder to disrupt arrangements for the Trump visit in less than two weeks crosses the line from justifiable labor action to an unconscionable threat to national security. Goder is right to declare that “someone who comes to work at the Foreign Ministry is either an idiot or idealist or their parents have money. It’s an exciting career, but it doesn’t pay.”
There is no justification for the government’s continuing stinginess, which also constitutes contributing to a threat to national security. Our diplomatic corps is an elite cadre of envoys who represent us to the world and defend us in the diplomatic arena, particularly its UN circus.
One result of not being able to earn a decent living abroad is that many dedicated foreign service workers are forced to leave their positions before the end of their contracts and return to Israel where they have better conditions.
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) held a parliamentary debate on the issue after Passover and told the media that the strikers have “wide support” among our lawmakers.
“For too many years, this problem has been neglected and overlooked by government officials, and it is very unfortunate that a strike is needed in order to get their attention,” Hasson said.
“They are our envoys abroad, doing the most important and professional job for the State of Israel, yet they are paid and treated so poorly, to the level that it’s absurd and beyond any political dispute.”
He does not believe that Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister in his spare time, is really aware of the payment issue. “He does not really care,” Hasson added.
This state of affairs is unacceptable. Today more than ever Israel is in need of a full-time foreign minister who can cope with Israel’s numerous foreign policy challenges – not the least of which is assuring that the ministry’s workers can earn a living with dignity.