Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Palestine

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Palestine, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661edc.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4,300,000
Capital: (East Jerusalem)
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: Not a member state

The exercise of freedom of association or collective bargaining remains very difficult for most Palestinian workers, especially in Gaza. One trade union leader was sacked and another one detained during the year. The law does not yet cover all trade union rights.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

While basic trade union rights are guaranteed, gaps remain in the labour law. Palestinian workers, including public sector employees, may establish and join unions and engage in collective bargaining, although this is not yet enshrined in law. Palestinians working in Jerusalem are governed by Israeli labour law, and they are free to form and join unions.

While the right to strike is recognised, unions must give four week's advance notice for strikes in public utilities. Furthermore, the Ministry of Labour can impose arbitration, and trade unions can face disciplinary action if they do not accept the outcome of that arbitration. A new trade union law is being drafted and includes the institutional framework for industrial relations, although it has been criticised by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: The Israeli offensive against Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009 resulted in massive rebuilding costs for the Palestinian Authority and reduced the ability of Palestine to provide employment opportunities, further reducing its ability to pay its own officials. The tension between Hamas and Fatah has continued to increase difficulties for ordinary people. The ongoing blockade of Gaza by Israel, termed "collective punishment" by the UN, and the installation of a wall aimed at blocking tunnels between Gaza and Egypt – through which a reported 60% of the economy in the Gaza Strip depends – has added to the economic desperation of most Palestinians. Only around 35% of Gaza's industry is able to function while the number of exit permits approved by Israel is only 1% of the number from 2000. Throughout 2010, as in previous years, many Palestinians were detained during attempts to work illegally in Israel, fined and deported.

Difficult exercise of trade union rights in Gaza: Due to the political strife in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah, with each side describing any union activity as politically-motivated, any normal daily exercise of freedom of association or collective bargaining is extremely difficult.

Discrimination hinders organising of women workers: Women workers receive some 60% of the wages of their male counterparts, and wages are the lowest in sectors that are predominantly female, such as agriculture and services. Security issues, legislative discrimination and cultural issues deter more women from entering the labour force. Women make up less than 15% of employees in the Palestinian labour market according to the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), and most of them are unorganised.

Difficulties for Palestinians working in areas under Israeli labour laws: Some 22,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements in construction, agriculture, manufacturing and service industries with another estimated 10,000 working informally. In 2010 it was reported that the Palestinian Authorities (PA) announced a ban prohibiting Palestinians from working in West Bank settlements as part of a wider campaign that included a national boycott of settlements. However, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) stated that they would not stop workers from working in settlements until the PA could provide alternative employment.

Palestinians working in these areas were employed under Jordanian labour law until 2007 when a court ruled that Israeli law applied equally to both Israeli and Palestinian workers, thus affording Palestinians the same conditions. However, the law is not often enforced, is poorly monitored and in the event of abuse, it is very difficult for Palestinian workers to obtain redress and take a case to court. In many instances employers continue to pay Palestinian workers less than the Israeli minimum wage, and they work in poor health and safety conditions. While the legal minimum wage in Israel is approximately USD 5.50 an hour, Palestinians in settlements earn USD 2 an hour or less. Increasingly children are also found working in settlements, often in construction with poor safety conditions and no insurance.

Palestinian Journalist Union elections and arrest: In January the Fatah Central Committee stated that it would respect the decision of the members of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the results of their elections in January. The elections were the first in over a decade and came after an arrest warrant was issued against the leader of the union, Na'im Toubassi, by the Palestinian Attorney-General. The Palestinian Authority (PA) stated that they would cancel the warrant so that the elections could take place without any alleged interference. The statement came shortly after the PA arrested a freelance journalist and union member, Mustafa Sabri. However, in October Hamas security forces shut down the headquarters of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Gaza and informed the officials present that they would remain closed until further notice.

Settlers damage union building: In April a group of settlers broke into the General Union of Palestine Labor Vocational Associations' housing complex north of Ramallah, causing damage to property. The union said that it was the second incident in a month and that settlers wanted to take over their premises.

Salit quarry workers strike for collective agreement after management end negotiations: In May 2010 workers from the Salit Quarry in the West Bank went on strike over the unilateral ending of negotiations for a collective agreement. Management reportedly ended the negotiations because workers had "lost respect for the law" since they organised. On the third day of strike, management offered to go back to negotiations, and on 13 May the majority of workers voted to end the strike a day before the scheduled opening of the negotiations.

The 40 or so workers, some of whom have been working at the quarry since 1983, began a campaign in May 2007 to gain basic employment rights. At the Salit Quarry there was a disregard for health and safety conditions, vaguely written pay slips for workers from East Jerusalem and none at all for those living in the Palestinian Authority, and arbitrary salary reductions and incorrect pension and insurance payments as stipulated in the collective agreement that applied to quarries. Only in January 2009, six months after a court ordered management to provide pay slips, did the quarry do so.

In April 2009 the two sides met and agreed to negotiate a collective agreement. After a court order compelling management to allow the election of a workers' committee, an election was held in October 2009. However, in February 2010 management deducted money from salaries ostensibly in return for the cost of providing the pay slips. A short strike in March led the management to back down and to the restart of negotiations; however, on 19 April management announced its withdrawal from the negotiations.

UNRWA refuses to negotiate with union: In May 2010 the Union of Arab Employees of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) proposed a strike, citing the need for a representative of the union to be appointed to all committees charged with investigations of workers, the formation of a joint committee made up of union members, and an UNRWA administration that can jointly decide on the issues of job categories and pay scale.

In June the union agreed to suspend the strike after efforts were made to resolve the issues by the President and the UNRWA General Commissioner. A strike was instead called in October. After two weeks the UNRWA representative issued a statement saying that talks would only begin with the trade union when the strike had been called off. Staff at UNRWA have been taking various forms of industrial action for the last two to three years over working conditions and pay.

Workers fired for striking for basic rights: On 19 October seventy-two workers at the Israeli Sol Or factory in the West Bank went on strike demanding that the company pay them the minimum wage as stipulated by law. Management has so far refused to negotiate. Six workers have reportedly died either on the job or afterwards due to cancer caused by the improper storage of chemicals, and workers who have complained to the media have been routinely fired. The factory was reportedly moved from Israel to the West Bank because it did not meet Israeli health standards. A previous strike was held in 2007 over low wages and dangerous conditions.

To date, 19 striking workers have been fired. One worker, Nazar Fukra, is suing the Israeli company, which says that since it is based in the West Bank, in an area that is not under any of the settlements' jurisdiction, Israeli law does not apply to the plaintiff, but rather Jordanian law. However, Israeli labour laws have been applied to Palestinian workers who work for Israeli employers in the West Bank since an October 2007 ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice.

South African unionists attacked: On 10 December a South African delegation with representatives from the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and other civil society organisations, was attacked by the Israeli army when they joined local Palestinians at a picket of Jewish settlements.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld