Protest banners on Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem: The fight for home starts abroad Photo: Courtesy
Foreign Ministry’s workers committee declared a full-fledged strike on Sunday, closing the ministry and all the country’s embassies and consulates around the world for the first time.
The strike is the latest development in a nearly two-year-old work dispute that the workers declared for improved salaries and work conditions.
Seven months of mediation efforts exploded on March 4 when the workers rejected a Finance Ministry proposal.
The workers then resumed crippling labor measures that had been put on hold during the mediation period.
A number of high-profile visits to Israel were canceled as a result of the measures, as well as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s planned trip to Mexico, Colombia and Panama next month.
In addition, Pope Francis’s planned visit in May is in doubt because of the strike measures.
A statement put out by the workers committee said that the workers declared an “indefinite” strike “in protest of the employment conditions for Israeli diplomats and because of the draconian decision by the Treasury to cut the workers’ salaries.
“Today, for the first time in Israel’s history, the Foreign Ministry will be closed and no work will be done in any sphere under the ministry’s authority,” the statement read.
The decision to strike was slammed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who called it a “miserable” decision that shows the workers committee has become “hysterical.”
“This move has no benefit, and will only cause more damage to the ministry’s workers,” he said. “I am sorry that these irresponsible steps will come at the expense of the country’s citizens, and as contacts are under way with the Treasury and in the middle of mediation.”
“We will do everything possible to limit the damage caused to the state and its citizens,” Liberman said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, had no comment on Sunday on the strike that will paralyze the diplomatic corps around the world.
As a result of the strike, no consular services will be available, Israel will not be represented in any international gathering or forum, its ambassadors abroad will not work and services needed for everybody from new immigrants to tourists requiring visas to employers bringing in foreign workers will be brought to a halt.
According to the statement, the ministry’s doors will be locked from Sunday afternoon to everyone, including the ministry’s management and political leadership.
“The Foreign Ministry will be completely closed for all activity, including Israel’s 103 embassies around the world from New Zealand, through Paris, London, Berlin, Washington and Israel’s representation at the UN,” the statement read.
Yair Frommer, the head of the workers committee, said the Treasury declared war on the foreign service and its “dedicated employees who struggle daily for Israel.”
Frommer accused Treasury officials of irresponsibly damaging Israel’s vital interests.
The Treasury officials, he said, will not however be able to “prevent boycotts of Israel, will not foster business transactions that yield huge economic benefits and will not raise our voices at the UN Security Council.”
The workers will not allow the Treasury “to destroy Israel’s foreign service,” Frommer said.
The workers are striking for better pay, as well as compensation for spouses of diplomats forced to forfeit careers in order to join their husbands or wives during their stints abroad.
The Finance Ministry lashed out against the Foreign Ministry workers union, accusing it of “holding the citizens of Israel hostage and harming the vital interests of the state.”
Not only had the workers received a 20 percent wage increase just two years ago, the Finance Ministry said, but they were now demanding a salary bump for their most senior members.
Instead of negotiating over new proposals designed to allay their concerns, the workers abandoned talks and went on strike, the Treasury said. “We call on the union to stop taking aggressive measures and return to the mediation process.”
Niv Elis contributed to this report.