Treasury threatens striking Foreign Ministry staff

Treasury threatens striking Foreign Ministry staff

Disciplinary action could be brought against workers who shut down embassies and consulates

Foreign Ministry workers protest outside the ministry's offices in Jerusalem on March 24, 2014.  The sign reads 'Here there is a strike.' (Meital Cohen/Flash90)
Foreign Ministry workers protest outside the ministry's offices in Jerusalem on March 24, 2014. The sign reads 'Here there is a strike.' (Meital Cohen/Flash90)

Two days into a strike by Foreign Ministry workers, the Finance Ministry Monday threatened to take disciplinary action against diplomats or employees involved in shuttering embassies around the world.

Finance Ministry wage director Kobi Amsalem sent a letter warning of the consequences of closing diplomatic sites and warning against the payment of wage advances to striking workers, Haaretz reported on Monday.

“Even in the framework of a [labor] dispute and a strike, a workers’ union may not lock the gates of a government office or any of its [overseas] missions,” Amsalem wrote in a missive sent to the Foreign Ministry worker’s union. “These buildings and complexes are owned by the state, not the Histadrut labor federation or the union.”

Amsalem noted that by forcing the buildings to remain closed, the workers were effectively stealing from public resources, and he added that he had already alerted the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary department about the matter.

The Treasury also took issue with an alleged order from the union to overseas administrative staff calling for diplomats be paid salary advances.

“The accountant general and the accountants of the various ministries are the parties authorized to order payment of salaries,” Amsalem wrote. “The union’s instruction on this matter was given without authority and amounts to putting its hand in the state’s till.”

However, according to the report the union maintained its stance that the wage advances be paid.

The Foreign Ministry’s Workers Union declared a full-blown general strike on Sunday shutting down the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem and all Israeli embassies and consulates across the world.

“The workers entirely locked the Foreign Ministry and Israeli embassies in the world, for the first time in Israel’s history,” the union declared in a dramatic statement headlined “The State of Israel’s first line of defense is falling apart.”

The move followed weeks of lower-level labor actions which have stymied diplomatic efforts abroad and stopped possible visitors to Israel from getting visas, among other sanctions.

Under the full strike, nobody will be allowed into the Foreign Ministry building, “including the political leadership and the ministry’s management,” according to the statement.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the development an “unfortunate decision of the workers union, reflecting hysteria.

The announcement escalates a months-old labor dispute between the union and the Finance Ministry, which could seriously disrupt Israel’s foreign policy apparatus.

Earlier this month, the Workers Union, which is fighting for higher salaries and better working conditions for diplomats serving abroad, declared a renewed round of labor sanctions, which have already led to series of cancellations of visits to Israel by foreign dignitaries and trips abroad by Israeli leaders.

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