Career officials of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, known as Itamaraty, in Brazil, have been on strike in Brazil and abroad since May 12 over housing benefit payment delays and for a pay rise.
Among other demands, they want employees across all Brazilian Foreign Service careers to be automatically entitled to diplomatic passports, as well as regulations for on-call service shifts across all diplomatic, consular, and communications offices – currently there are no overtime compensation schemes.
One of the strikers, Ivana Lima, has been in Atlanta, Georgia for one year and eight months. She said delays receiving her overseas housing stipend is significantly impacting her household budget since her rental cost eats up three-quarters of her net salary.
“There have been payment issues before, including delays of one or two months. But since August 2014, these delays have got as long as four months,” she said.
According to Ivana, who is married and has a son, she has had to use her savings, loans and credit cards to meet her rental costs. “We’re always in the red, unable to plan anything ahead,” she said.
Affiliated with the National Union of Foreign Ministry career employees, Ivana advocates a written agreement to be signed by the ministry committing to settle all overdue payments.
In a letter to the union in April, the Foreign Ministry acknowledged the difficulties and said it was working hard to obtain more funding to meet the costs of the pending housing benefits, because the reserves allocated for these payments are insufficient.
The impact of the delay is being felt throughout the careers and is most severe in cities with high cost of living. Osvaldo Nascimento is married to a Foreign Ministry official and lives in Canberra, Australia.
He told Agência Brasil that his family – a couple with three teenage children – have used up all of their savings because of the delays.
“The fact that I can have a job helps cover our household costs. But I had to make do with a non-career job just for the money, carrying luggage at a hotel and washing dishes because the work visa they gave me is restrictive,” he says. In Brazil, he was a university professor.
Regarding the pay rise, the union reported that diplomats had a pay rise in 2008, but other administrative careers in the Foreign Ministry did not.