Non-diplomatic staffers at Israeli missions in London, Paris and New York said they will stage a three-hour warning strike on Wednesday to protest the standstill in improving their employment conditions.
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The staffers are not in the foreign service, but rather Israelis working at the diplomatic offices to supplement the foreign service staff. Among other jobs, the non-diplomatic staff are involved in providing embassy security, consular services, financial staff work, public relations, digital media, information technology, foreign trade and military procurement. These workers have been unionized through the Histadrut labor federation since December 2013, but have complained of inadequate employment terms and are demanding immediate reform.
“We patiently carried out our fight for about the past two and a half years without any resort to sanctions, in the desire to both allow the state to consider the nature of the work in depth and to develop a new model adapted to that work that Ami [the workers’ committee] now provides the Israeli foreign service,” the committee wrote to Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan.
“Unfortunately, though all the relevant parties hold identical views regarding the problematic nature of the existing employment conditions, we are witness to foot-dragging on the part of the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the [Civil Service] Commission.”
The Civil Service Commission said Ami employees abroad have been exempt from civil service rules by virtue of a 1959 cabinet decision and as a result, the commission has no direct responsibility for the matter, although it has been working to examine scrapping the exemption.
The Ami letter continued: “The differences between the committee and the Histadrut and the state are small, but completion of the process is being carried out slowly. The price of this slow conduct is being paid by the workers, who are collapsing under the cost of living abroad and receive terms that in certain cases are inferior even to the minimum permitted by law.”
The employment rules applying to the 1,200 or so non-diplomatic Ami employees at 100 Israeli missions are different from those applying to diplomatic staff, even though they are also Foreign Ministry employees. Avishai Azrieli, who chairs Ami, an acronym for “Ovdim mekomi’im Yisraelim” (“Israeli local employees”), said the Foreign Ministry finds it attractive to hire Ami staff because it costs the ministry less.
“We are demanding equal [work] conditions to the diplomats. They are entitled to at least 23 vacation days compared to the 15 that we get. In addition, we are demanding payment for moving expenses. I am paying for flights, rent, and between the time that I’ve landed and when I found housing, I’ve needed to provide my own accommodations,” he said. “We are demanding that our salaries be linked to the international [cost of living] index. The strike is to wake up the government so they [become] committed to completing the process.”