ISRAEL

Pope's visit threatened by Israeli diplomats' strike over pay abroad

Strike over pay for staff abroad may make preparing for pontiff's Israel trip complicated

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 12:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 12:17am
AFP

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Pope Francis's first trip to the Holy Land is under threat, with Israeli foreign ministry employees on strike over pay and conditions.

The strike, announced on Sunday, applies to staff at home and around the world. "A general strike has been declared at the foreign ministry," its website said.

"The ministry in Jerusalem will remain closed and Israel's missions abroad will not open as of Monday morning."

The Vatican said earlier there were no plans to cancel the pope's visit, scheduled for May, but confirmed that the dispute was "likely to cause complications in preparing for the trip".

The ministry website said that since Sunday, diplomats have not dealt "with foreign representatives ... official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas", issued visas or consular services.

A ministry official said: "As of now, the foreign ministry doesn't exist. It's not possible even to submit complaints."

Israel media said the indefinite walk-out was the first by diplomats in the country's 65-year history. The latest step intensifies industrial action that has been in place since the wage talks broke down on March 4.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who media said would be locked out of his office during the strike, slammed the stoppage.

"It is a miserable decision that points to loss of control," he said. "It has no benefit and only causes more damage to the ministry's workers."

"We will do everything necessary to minimise the damage caused to the country and its citizens."

The Jerusalem Post came out firmly in support of the strikers.

"The plight of our foreign-service personnel has become increasingly unbearable," its web edition said.

"For over a decade salaries of these dedicated people have not been adjusted in the respective countries in which they serve to compensate for inflation."

The workers are demanding an increase in monthly salaries and compensation for spouses forced to quit jobs due to foreign postings.

Additional reporting by Reuters