Israeli diplomats in Kenya on labor strike

NAIROBI – Israeli diplomats at the Kenya Mission – whose mandate also covers Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Seychelles – have staged an open-ended strike to demand more pay.

"At the moment, the strike is indefinite," Yaki Lopez, deputy ambassador at the Nairobi Mission, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

"It hasn't reached the level of a full-blown strike, but, basically, I would call it work sanctions because we are not doing most of our work," he added.

"We're coming to the office in the morning; the embassy isn't closed yet," the senior diplomat explained.

"Our consular section is closed. We're only handling life-and-death situations," said Lopez.

"We're not renewing passports for Israeli citizens as well; we're not handling consular issues for Israeli citizens… it [the strike] is targeted at everybody, not Kenyans alone," he explained.

The strike will affect those wishing to travel to Israel for business or tourism.

"There is no issuing of visas," Lopez said.

According to data received by AA from the Israeli embassy, over 6000 Kenyans travel to Israel every year.

Lopez said many Kenyans travel to Israel for religious pilgrimages and tourism.

A growing number, he added, visit Israel to explore new business opportunities – especially in the field of agriculture.

The strike is also expected to affect the African countries covered by the Israeli Mission in Kenya such as Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Seychelles.

-Grievances-

The striking diplomats are demanding better pay to support their families overseas and meet the high costs of living abroad.

"Salaries haven't been adjusted to the rising cost of living overseas," said Lopez.

"Diplomats want an increase in salary to support their whole family; this is a question that leads to very low pensions," he asserted.

"The labor dispute has become quite severe for many diplomats, especially the younger ones," Lopez added.

According to the deputy ambassador, one third of Israel's newly-appointed diplomats have left their diplomatic positions.

"It has become very hard for the [Israeli] Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fill their positions overseas," he said.

Diplomats at the mission are also protesting special taxes levied on Israelis working abroad, including diplomats.

"There's also the issue of discriminatory tax policy, which places a higher tax on Israeli diplomats overseas than the tax they would have paid having earned the same salaries in Israel," said Lopez.

"There is a different tax level for overseas. This is something that we would like to see changed," he added.

Lopez also complained about the "lack of assistance" for diplomats' spouses who follow their husbands or wives overseas.

"They don't receive enough support," he said.

According to Lopez, talks were underway with the body responsible for issuing salaries at Israel's Finance Ministry.

"We've had ongoing negotiations for almost a year now," he said.

"At one point, we reached a professional mediation with the former judge of the labor court in Israel, but it all collapsed about two weeks ago," he added.

Lopez blamed the breakdown of talks on "the lack of seriousness from the Ministry of Finance."

"At no point has the ministry of finance tabled a serious offer to bring this dispute to an end," he asserted.

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