Despite wage assurances, Israeli diplomats still intend to disrupt Trump visit
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Despite wage assurances, Israeli diplomats still intend to disrupt Trump visit

Foreign Ministry workers say they won’t prepare for imminent trip by US president unless a pay deal reached in March is implemented

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israel's Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel's Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Ministry workers plan to go ahead with a labor strike aimed at disrupting the expected visit of US President Donald Trump, despite obtaining a further assurance from the Finance Ministry that a wage agreement will be implemented, Channel 2 television reported Thursday.

Although a meeting the night before between representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the treasury and the Prime Minister’s Office produced a commitment to apply a previously formulated deal, the diplomats said they will not relent until they see the agreement not only signed but also put into practice.

The fight between the diplomatic service and the Finance Ministry over diplomats’ stagnant pay has been going on for several years. The diplomats argue that past agreements are not being honored and budgets are not being approved.

“We will wait for a signed document, and more than that, for it to be implemented,” Foreign Ministry workers said in a statement. “We have had enough of empty assurances and dishonest handling of labor relations.”

Foreign Ministry workers on Monday announced they would begin the labor action later in the week.

In a memo to all ministry employees in Israel and abroad, workers union head Hanan Goder said at the time diplomats should desist from participating in any preparations for Trump’s visit.

Jerusalem and Washington are in the midst of arranging a one-day visit by Trump to Israel reportedly slated for May 22.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump walk in the White House on February 15, 2017, followed by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (Shmulik Armani)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump walk in the White House on February 15, 2017, followed by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (Shmulik Armani)

It is not clear what effect the strike will have on preparations for the visit, but Goder said workers would be prohibited from processing paperwork, attending planning meetings, placing orders with vendors or any other activities related to the high-level trip.

“We have no choice but to go down the path of serious organizational measures that will impact the diplomatic and organizational schedule,” he said in the message, citing a lack of progress in implementing a wage agreement.

In addition, Goder, who is Israel’s ambassador to South Sudan, also instructed workers not to join meetings concerned with a plan to bring Portuguese and Chinese workers to Israel to assist in the construction of new housing.

Striking workers outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2104. (photo credit: courtesy)
Striking workers outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2104. (Courtesy)

The ministry’s union and treasury officials reached a verbal agreement on salaries two months ago, but since then the treasury has not drawn up a formal agreement and as a result, there has been no change in employment conditions, diplomats say.

Among the changes workers expect from the deal are salary increases based on the cost of living in countries where they serve and incentives to work in less attractive countries.

The Finance Ministry told Army Radio last week that the details of the agreement were being drawn up by attorneys, a process that has caused a delay.

In July 2013, Foreign Ministry workers called a labor dispute that disrupted foreign diplomatic appointments. At the time, Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, was caught up in delays that prevented him receiving his diplomatic passport and other paperwork.

The diplomatic corps staged a general strike for similar reasons in 2014. The two-week strike, which shuttered Israel’s embassies and consulates worldwide, ended with an agreement with Finance Ministry officials to increase the pay and improve the conditions of Israeli diplomats.

In 2015, Israeli diplomats threatened to disrupt arrangements surrounding the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-US president Barack Obama in Washington over the ongoing labor dispute.

Times of Israel of staff contributed to this report.

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