Date: 24 April 2015
On Labor Day of May 1st 2015 Al Mezan commemorates the struggle of laborers in defense of workers’ rights throughout the world. This occasion comes at a time when the situation for Palestinian workers in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and in particular Gaza continues to deteriorate. Israel’s recent full-scale military bombardment on Gaza further undercut the already critical situation of employment in Gaza that is largely due to Israel’s policy of closure of the Gaza Strip and lack of safeguards from the Palestinian Authority.
Available information indicates that lack of employment and the absence of protections in place for laborers are the main issues faced by Palestinian workers. . According to a press release by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics issued on Wednesday, 29 April 2015, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip is approximately 27% and the poverty rate among laborers is 33%. According to the Ministry of Labor in Gaza, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip is between 45% and 50% depending on the entry of construction materials and electricity cuts. The actual unemployment rate in Gaza is higher as available statistics reflect those who are of working age who are seeking work whereas the actual figure would include those of working age who are not seeking work.
At the moment, about 50,000 public servants in the Gaza Strip have yet to receive their salaries. Withholding of salaries exacerbates the already protracted humanitarian crisis and directly affects families, as well as farmers and businesses. The absence of monitoring and implementation of safeguards by the authorities has led to some employers exploiting the workforce by decreasing monthly salaries to as low as USD 100, despite the increasingly higher cost of living.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights points out that the Palestinian Authority and its governments have not taken effective measures to address unemployment. The authorities have failed to create policies that safeguard against unemployment or monitor conditions of work, which would ensure that workers and their families live in dignity and reach an adequate standard of living. Instead, workers’ rights are continually violated and the high poverty levels lead families to rely on food aid.
Israel’s policy of closure of the Gaza Strip, as has been implemented stringently from 2000 until today, prevents Palestinian workers of Gaza from reaching employment in Israel and the West Bank and systematically prevents economic growth or stability in the Gaza Strip. The closure policy, as compounded by full-scale military bombardments on the Gaza Strip, has led to the complete destruction of once productive sectors, including textile, construction, and tourism. Hundreds of Palestinian factories and businesses have been forced to close due to their inability to export and/or import while skilled laborers are prevented from traveling outside of, or into, the Gaza Strip within the broader policy that prevents the free movement of people and goods.
Israel’s recent aggression on the Gaza Strip directly increased the unemployed and poverty figures. Approximately 17,137 families lost their source of income due to the razing of agricultural lands and the destruction of crops. Approximately 2,458 people lost their work due to the Israeli destruction of trade facilities; around 1,578 facilities were damaged while 693 facilities were destroyed. Around 2,372 workers lost their jobs due to the damage of 225 industrial facilities, of which 109 facilities were destroyed completely.
Al Mezan points to the responsibility of the international community, and in particular the donor community, to address the root causes of the unemployment. Where the closure of Gaza and occupation of Palestine are policies determined within a political context, the donor community addresses Gaza from the perspective of a purely humanitarian problem, thus overlooking the need for development funding. The donor community should rather exert pressure on Israel to halt its destruction of civilian objects and to lift its almost nine-year-old closure, which amounts to collective punishment of the population and violates international humanitarian law.
Al Mezan reiterates its recognition of workers on Labor Day and calls on the international community to take swift actions to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the violations of international law. Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian political powers to reinvigorate the efforts towards achieving full reconciliation and unity.
Al Mezan also calls on the Palestinian government to implement effective policies to protect the right to work and to prevent the increase of unemployment. Such policies are essential to alleviate poverty. Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian working unions to unite and to accelerate their struggle to achieve the full enjoyment of their rights within employment and to live in dignity.