Capital: (East Jerusalem)
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: Not a member state
The exercise of freedom of association or collective bargaining remain extremely difficult for most Palestinians workers, especially in Gaza. One trade union leader was sacked and another one detained. Peaceful May Day demonstrations were broken up by soldiers. 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 2009
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. Between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed, while over 4,000 homes were destroyed and 600-700 factories and workshops were destroyed. The current installation by Egypt of a new steel wall aimed at blocking the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, through which a reported 60% of the economy in the Gaza Strip depends, will add to the economic desperation of most Palestinians and the potential for abuses. In September, the Israeli Trade Union centre Histadrut confirmed its support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Gaza has become a humanitarian crisis, with 80% of families relying on humanitarian aid, 95% of Gaza's industrial operations suspended, and unemployment at 50%, with most Palestinians being unable to leave Gaza to work in Israel. Salaries of public sector employees are frequently delayed, as the transfer of funds has to come through Israel and major strikes occurred in the public sector after wages were delayed.
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.
Sackings and strikes at UN agency: On 5 and 14 February, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East's (UNRWA) employees went on strike demanding pay increases similar to Palestinian Authority and UN workers in other countries. In April, following internal trade union elections involving around 10,000 workers, management warned it may fire employees who violated the organisation's non-partisan policy. In late June, 312 workers from the West Bank were fired. In response, large numbers of workers protested, with the support of the Palestinan General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), and nearly 16,000 held a one-day strike. An agreement was finally reached in December.
Public servants on strike and pressurised to return: The Public Employees Union accused Hamas of exerting various types of pressure on employees in Gaza to return to work during a strike in February as well as during other protests. On 15 February, tens of thousands of Palestinian officials had held a one-day strike to protest against a delay of two weeks in the payment of their wages. On 2 March, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that salaries would be paid on 5 March; however, on that day a further delay in the payment of salaries was reported as being due to Israel's refusal to allow cash to be transferred and other difficulties.
Peaceful May Day demonstrations broken up by Israel soldiers: On 1 May, a short march of workers in the West Bank organised by the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) to celebrate May Day was held at Mt. Zayton in Jerusalem. The activities were kept small and not publicised for fear of trouble. Another march was held afterwards outside Bethlehem attended by some 250 people. The marchers were stopped by a line of Israeli soldiers and vehicles that launched sound grenades and tear gas canisters into the crowd. The canisters were fired directly at groups of workers, and an ambulance had to be called. Three workers and a journalist were apprehended.
Palestinian Workers Union head detained: On 2 July, Israeli troops detained the head of the Palestinian Workers Union (PWU), Yasser Taha, after searching and surrounding his house near Salfit. Yasser Taha is considered one of the most prominent Fatah leaders in Biddya and has run the Workers Union in Salfit for several years.
Health Workers Union leader sacked over complaints: In September, various transportation, teachers and health workers' unions demanded an urgent meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad after the firing of the leader of the Health Workers Union. Tensions had been rising between the Health Minister and unions over poor working conditions including the non-payment of overtime and transport costs. Osama An-Najjar, head of the health professionals' union, accused the Health Ministry of "targeting union activities" and deliberately avoiding direct dialogue. According to the union, An-Najjar was then fired and another official dismissed. Health workers then went on strike. In a radio interview, the Health Minister Fathi Abu Moghli called the strike illegal.
Disclaimer: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010
This 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.