Population: 7,200,000
Capital: Jerusalem
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

There were many strikes during the year in all sectors although the labour courts often issue back-to-work orders in various sectors. Palestinian workers in Israel, even with permits, are hounded by the authorities and are often subject to abuse, illegal detentions and deportations while Israeli Arabs are subject to extensive employment-related discrimination. Most employers breach the labour law, and the right to strike is coupled with restrictions.

Trade union rights in law

Israeli workers are free to join and establish trade unions and have the right to organise. However, a minimum of one third of the employees in a workplace is needed to form a union. It is also forbidden to be a member of two unions at the same time. While Palestinians who work in Israel enjoy freedom of association, they may not elect or be elected to trade union leadership bodies.

The right to strike is secured, but it is prohibited to strike over issues that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement in force. All political strikes are also forbidden. Furthermore, the government or authorised ministers may pass emergency measures to "defend the country", ensure public safety and guarantee the supply of "essential services". Such measures, which can remain in force for up to three months, allow the government to impose severe penalties for failure to comply. Finally, the government or a public employer can ask the labour courts to issue back-to-work orders to strikers.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, became prime minister in February 2009 raising fears that the peace process would falter. A general strike in protest against plans to evict 1,500 Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan district of Jerusalem paralysed much of the occupied West Bank on 28 February, whilst other general strikes were held throughout the year to mark various anniversaries. The number of complaints over workers rights has reportedly increased due to the economic crisis.

Migrant workers admitted into Histadrut: In November, the Histadrut Legislative Assembly passed a motion which admits migrant workers as members with equal rights. With this amendment in the constitution, the Histadrut will work as a trade union to promote the status, working conditions, and to protect the rights of migrant workers in Israel, based on the principles of equality and the Israeli law. Previously, only Israeli citizens or residents could be members. Histadrut also objected to the increasing deportation of the migrant workers' children and is calling instead for a solution. A new union, Koach La Ovdim – literally "Power to the Workers" – had previously begun organising among migrant workers, in particular in non-organised sectors, contract work and temporary employment, such as security work, baggage handling, waiting and even lecturing.

Collective bargaining – fear of reprisals: The Histadrut Transport Workers' Union is in dispute with truck drivers' employers over their refusal to increase the wages of truckers, who have to work long hours to make up the shortfall. While the union has negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that covers truck drivers who are employed by the Israel Road Transport Board (ITB), around 80% of drivers in Israel remain unorganised for fear of employer reprisals. As a result, the Histadrut Transport Workers' Union is undertaking an organising campaign.

Very poor respect of labour law: According to a 2006 report, 92% of employers breach the labour law. The main victims are migrant workers and women. In February 2008, the government approved a significant increase in the number of labour supervisors.

Problems for Palestinian workers: The ILO reports that there are 60,000 Palestinians working legally and illegally in Israel; these workers face serious daily problems with crossing borders between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and are sometimes harassed and humiliated by border guards. In addition, some 20,000 Palestinians work in the West Bank for very low wages, and many are among the most marginalised people in Palestinian society, often widows or women with sick family members who fall through the gaps in the network of social solidarity that has enabled many Palestinians to survive the effects of the Israeli occupation. The situation of these workers is exacerbated by the fact that often Israeli authorities abandon the Palestinian workers to their employers by not inspecting their working conditions, especially in the West Bank settlements.

Migrant workers abused and denied union rights: Migrant workers, who make up around 7% of the working population, have only restricted labour and trade unions rights. They are often mistreated, threatened with deportation or deported when they complain or attempt to organise. The rounding up and deportation of undocumented migrant workers has increased with the formation of a targeted immigration force and the economic crisis raising fears over local jobs. Histadrut recently opened membership to migrants and has urged Israeli employers to grant migrant workers the same social and employment rights as their Israeli counterparts. While the Israeli Labour Court has agreed that this principle should be applied, in practice abuse is still common.

Palestinian workers denied rights – suspended and dismissed after strike: In October, around 80 Palestinian workers, members of the Jahleen Bedouin tribe in the city of Ma'aleh Adumim, went on strike after their municipal employers refused to allow more workers to attend Friday prayers. As a result the authorities ordered the dismissal of three employees, threatened three others with dismissal and suspended 14 other employees. The gardening and sanitation workers come under locally applied Jordanian law, which is not extended to Palestinians. Jordanian labour law was applied in the territories in 1965, and while recent amendments have made the legislation more progressive these amendments are not applied to Palestinians. Lawyers filed a suit on their behalf at the regional labour court asking that Israeli labour law be applied, which would allow them restricted rights to strike as well as improved working conditions.

Palestinian textile workers abused: According to a November 2009 report, most workers from a textile factory in the Barkan Israeli industrial zone received 7 – 12 shekels an hour (approximately a third of the legal minimum wage). Workers did not receive a pay slip, nor any medical or social benefits including overtime and holidays. In April 2008, the Kav LaOved NGO helped 47 Palestinian workers from the Barkan factory to sue their employer in the Labour Court. The complaints were also made to the management, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour in Israel and the Civil Administration. However, the authorities have not yet visited the factory nor made any response. Several of the original complainants have been forced to drop their cases because they and their families could not afford not to work.

In spring 2009, workers who have continued with the lawsuit have been repeatedly fired in contravention of court injunctions ordering them to be reinstated. Some have also been threatened with violence by the local sub-contractor if they try to find other sources of income. In June 2009, one of the female workers, Jamila Yassin, finally reached a court agreement over payments owed, and in November another ten workers had their cases discussed by the courts.

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.