Foreign Ministry strike ends with pay agreement

Foreign Ministry strike ends with pay agreement

Diplomats' wages to be calculated based on the cost of living where they are assigned; spouses to receive employment benefits

A Foreign Ministry worker lying in a tent as he strike outside the Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on March 24, 2014. (photo Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Foreign Ministry worker lying in a tent as he strike outside the Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on March 24, 2014. (photo Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Ministry workers signed an agreement with Finance Ministry officials Wednesday evening to increase pay for Israeli diplomats, bringing to an end a nearly two-week strike that shuttered Israel’s embassies and consulates worldwide.

“We reached an agreement that will strengthen the foreign service and help the country’s envoys in the world to work for a long time in Israel’s diplomatic corps,” said Finance Ministry official Kobi Amsalem in a statement.

The deal reached between Foreign Ministry employees and the Treasury was a prelude to a more comprehensive agreement that is to be reached within a month. It included an clause to adjust diplomats’ wages according to the cost of living in the country in which they serve. In addition, a financial plan will partially compensate for a spouse’s loss of career and pension, as well as assist diplomats’ partners in finding employment during their time abroad. The Finance Ministry also agreed to help fund the cost of education for the children of diplomats working abroad.

“The agreement signed today is an outline of the principles that form the basis of a collective agreement that should be signed within the specified 30 days,” the Foreign Ministry Workers Union said in a statement.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin welcomed the agreement and the end of the strike.

“I am happy that the work conditions and the workers’ wages will be dramatically improved, something that will ensure a higher standard for the Israeli foreign service,” he said. “I regret the unnecessary strike in recent weeks, which damaged the diplomatic interests of the State of Israel and many citizens. From now on, we can all get together in a joint effort to rectify the strike’s damage and to put the Foreign Ministry back on track towards full operations.”

Higher wages was a key demand by the Foreign Ministry workers in a dispute that dragged out for many months and eventually led to the strike. Ministry workers said they do not make enough money to support themselves in Israel or on international assignments, especially in more expensive Western countries. Workers were also bitter at what they claimed were significantly lower wages than comparable positions in the defense and intelligence communities.

“We are glad that the State of Israel understands the difficulties that the fighters of the Foreign Ministry must deal with and are sorry for the unnecessary damage that was caused,” the statement read. “Tomorrow the foreign fighters of Israel will return to the global front line.”

Last month, the Foreign Ministry Workers Union called an open-ended general strike, shutting down the Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem and 103 embassies and consulate worldwide for the first time in Israel’s history. The drastic move came after a first round of labor sanctions last year and seven months of subsequent negotiations with the Finance Ministry yielded no results.

The strike brought diplomatic work to a standstill, leaving Israelis who lose their passports overseas stranded and canceling trips by Israeli officials abroad.

In response, the Finance Ministry threatened to take disciplinary action against diplomats or employees involved in not letting employees enter missions.

Several workers have published their payslips in the national media to prove they make below the average Israeli salary of about NIS 8,000 ($2,300) a month, including diplomats with over a decade of experience.

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