Foreign Ministry to suspend labor sanctions

Foreign Ministry to suspend labor sanctions

Employees and Finance Ministry agree to approach mediator; dispute had threatened summer’s school trips to Poland

Foreign Ministry employees protest outside the offices of the Shin Bet security agency, in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2013. The sign reads: 'A lost diplomacy = an isolated Israel' (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Foreign Ministry employees protest outside the offices of the Shin Bet security agency, in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2013. The sign reads: 'A lost diplomacy = an isolated Israel' (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Foreign Ministry employees are on Thursday to suspend months of sanctions they have been maintaining in protest over working conditions, after Foreign and Finance Ministry representatives agreed to approach a mediator, the National Labor Court announced Wednesday.

The decision will take effect Thursday afternoon and ministry employees are expected to once again begin issuing visas as well as diplomatic passports to the public.

The employees, who have gradually stepped up sanctions over the past five months, are protesting wage cuts and reductions in the compensation packages offered to partners and spouses of those sent overseas.

Last month, workers expanded their protest by halting all consular activities in Israel and abroad. As a result, thousands of Israelis have been stranded in foreign countries waiting to obtain renewed passports, and visiting business VIPs who require visas had to cancel trips to Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin welcomed the decision to end the sanctions and vowed to assist in the negotiations for better working conditions.

“I hope that mediation will lead to solutions for the employees of the Foreign Ministry,” Elkin said. “I will continue to work hard in order to promote a just agreement between the worker’s union and the ministry of finance.”

An official statement issued by representatives of the ministry employees blamed the Finance Ministry for setting up unfair negotiation terms in the past and highlighted the union’s determination to achieve fair worker’s rights.

“The Ministry of Finance was negotiating in bad faith, and [the judge] forced them to approach a mediator,” read the statement. “We are pleased that the Finance Ministry agreed to sit down and negotiate matters in a manner that comprehensively examines the data, and after shuffling their feet for an extended period of time, will hasten steps to restore Foreign Ministry services.”

The bitter labor dispute between the diplomats and the Finance Ministry has been gathering force for months, and since April the workers union has been implementing sanctions aimed at disrupting Israeli officials’ visits abroad. The union asked staff to stop sending emails and diplomatic cables, along with additional measures to disrupt the functioning of the country’s foreign policy apparatus. Several ministers and other top officials had been forced to cancel travel plans because ministry staff refused to issue them diplomatic passports.

Besides refusing to issue diplomatic passports to people who do not work for the Foreign Ministry, employees have also stopped providing services to new political appointees within Israel’s diplomatic service. The workers union also instructed ministry employees to disregard the usual dress code and come to work in jeans and T-shirts.

On Tuesday, the state had announced it would appeal a ruling allowing Foreign Ministry employees to continue not issuing diplomatic passports for Shin Bet security guards set to accompany youth delegations to Poland. This after the Jerusalem District Labor Court rejected a request from the Education Ministry to force the union to issue the necessary passports, which are needed to allow thousands of students to make the annual heritage trips.

A total of 2,000 students are scheduled to leave for Poland to participate in some 20 delegations that will visit Holocaust sites as part of the March of the Living program. The trips are scheduled to leave over the next two weeks,

Also among those caught in the deadlock was Israel’s new ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, who has not received his diplomatic passport or any other paperwork.

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