Date: 4/9/2006 The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are witnessing a strike that will have serious effects on the population.
Trade unions for public service jobs have announced the strike after teachers and medical personnel have not received their full salaries for the last five months, with an exception of receiving advanced payments at sporadic occasions.
The strike has provoked varied reactions among Palestinians either at the level of the PNA, the opposition party, or within the Palestinian public.
Since the strike affects public services being received by the Palestinians, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, through this position paper, expresses its considerations regarding the legality of the strike and possible methods to overcome this crisis.
The OPT has passed through severe stages since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994.
Following the success of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections that took place on 25 January 2006, and the formation of the new Palestinian government which was ratified by the PLC on 28 March 2006, many countries of the EU, and the United Sates, halted their funds to the PNA, in addition to allowing Israel to withhold tax and customs owed to the PNA by Israel under past signed agreements between the two parties.
The financial boycott of the PNA has created an untenable economic and social situation in the OPT, which has resulted in the inability of the governmental executive branch to submit its 2006 budget to the PLC for ratification, and consequently it has been unable to pay the salaries of public sector employees.
These measures have negatively affected all facets of Palestinian life, and there has been a dire effect on human rights.
The economic, social, political and security situations have severely deteriorated in the OPT, in particular the Gaza Strip, which is witnessing economic stagnation and increasing poverty and unemployment rates which now stand at 40% and 78% respectively according to OCHA.
Despite attempts by the PNA, represented by President Mahmoud Abbas, and the government, headed by Ismail Hania, to secure financial resources to sustain the Palestinian ministries, it has failed to pay salaries to its employees, create new employment opportunities, provide education, housing, health, and social services, and appropriately offer compensatory assistance to the families of detainees and those who have been killed by the Israeli military.
In light of these difficult circumstances, the idea to go on strike was launched by syndicates and employees, in particular those suffering extremely hard conditions.
A high number of Palestinians working in the health sector, particularly in West bank hospitals have been on strike for over a week now, demanding to be provided with their salaries.
The decision taken by the Palestinian General Union Teachers to go on strike on 2 September, the first day of the new academic year, has raised a debate on the legality of the strike at this particular time, and the responsibility the Palestinian government holds for not having paid the salaries of its employees.
The Palestinian legislative has emphasized the right to strike and to syndicate formation.
The third and the fourth paragraphs of article 25 states that "the organization of syndicates is a right regulated by law", and "the right to strike is practiced within the legal scope".
Thus, the uniting of groups of workers and their deliberate refusal to work, in order to achieve vocational objectives is a constitutional right enshrined in the Palestinian Basic Law.
Furthermore, this right should be practiced peacefully, without rioting.
However, the government should be notified before this right is exercised, in order to have a chance to make negotiations that could lead to the cancellation of the strike.
Providing basic guarantees for the freedom of syndicate work necessitates national legislation ensuring that all syndicate rights are in effect.
Further, the government must take necessary step to make its rules applicable, in order to ensure a state of stability, and economic security in the OPT.
Whilst the Palestinian legislative guaranteed the right to strike and to syndicate formation, no laws were issued governing the process of striking, the refusal to work, and the relation between government and strikers.
Further, it continued the implementation of the administrative decision no.
"331/1954" relative to the syndicate formation which constitutes part of a previous stage before the establishment of the PNA, thus, this decision should not be referred to when practicing constitutional rights.
The claim made by the PNA of the illegal nature of the strike due to the lack of a legislation organizing the striking process, is irrelevant and should be reexamined, since the right to strike is nstitutionally guaranteed.
Therefore, the PNA must not bar this constitutional right, and question the strikers' nationalistic integrity.
Al Mezan warns of the consequences of using violence as a measure to stop the strike, or to force others to join it, and confirms the importance of dealing with this problem from a legal point of view, and not politicizing it, which could lead to increased insecurity and unrest within the OPT.
The Center emphasizes the legality of strike, and attaches importance to protecting the right to collective negotiation.
It also asserts that the government should negotiate with those who announced the strike in order to find better ways to achieve both sides' objectives.
Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian National Authority to democratically end this crisis and examine the strikers' demands, as the only way to solve this crisis.