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Al Mezan Calls for Protection of Palestinian Labor Rights on International Workers’ Day

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30 April 2017 |Reference 29/2017

May 1st, International Workers’ Day, is an annual occasion to mark the struggle of workers around the world who fight and have fought to enjoy basic rights in the workplace. On this day in 1886, workers gathered at the Haymarket in Chicago to request an 8-hour workday—a protest that ended in seven deaths, and forced the US government to meet the workers’ demands. Ever since, the day is marked with demonstrations all over the world that celebrate the workers’ sacrifices for their rights, and aim to shed light on the fact that many workers are still denied their rights. In Palestine, this year’s International Workers’ Day comes at a time when the situation for Palestinian workers in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), particularly in Gaza, continues to deteriorate.


In 2016, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) calculated a record-high unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip of 41.7%. According to monthly consumer patterns of 2011, the poverty rate amounts to 38.8%, while the rate of abject poverty rose up to 21.1%. these rates continue to rise, and approximately 80% of the population of Gaza have remained food insecure. This stagnation in the labor market is connected to a number of factors, most significant of which are inter alia Israel’s restrictions on import of construction materials, chronic shortages of electricity—factors that have a devastating impact on the availability of work in Gaza. The actual unemployment rate is reported to be higher than PCBS numbers, as statistics reflect only laborers of working age who are actively looking for work, and exclude those who have despaired and no longer register as job-seekers. 


Available information indicates that both unemployment, as well as the absence of protection from unemployment, pose major challenges for Palestinian workers, in addition to generating social problems in Palestinian society, particularly in the Gaza Strip.


The absence of labor market oversight and the protection of workers’ rights by the authorities has led to increased abuse by employers who deliberately exploit laborers. For example, workers would be paid a monthly salary amounting to no more than USD 100, despite the continuously increasing cost of living. Having no system to fall back to for protection, workers are forced to accept low salaries, as they need to provide for their families. According to the decision number 11 of 2012 of the Palestinian Council of Ministries, the minimum wage, is set at NIS 1,450 (approximately USD 400) per month and is pertinent to a five-member household.


About 50,000 public servants who are employed by the Gaza authorities do not receive their salaries in full or on a regular basis. In addition to that, in March 2017, the Palestinian unity government unilaterally decided to deduct 30 percent from salaries of both civil and security public employees in the Gaza who are employed by the Palestinian Authority, putting livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy. The salary deduction does not only affect public employees, but it also has a negative impact on the economy in Gaza, which has grown to depend on income generated by these employees over the past years. The internal divide between Fatah and Hamas, and the de facto existence of two governments has additionally exacerbated the unemployment problem in the Gaza Strip.


Israel’s closure and blockade of Gaza not only prevents Gaza workers from accessing employment opportunities in Israel and the West Bank, but it systematically prevents economic growth and stability in the Gaza Strip. The clkosure—the consequences of which are further intensified by three full-scale military bombardments on Gaza in the past ten years—has led to complete destruction of the once thriving economic sectors, including textile and furniture production, construction, and tourism. Hundreds of Palestinian factories and businesses were forced to close due to severely limited ability to export and/or import goods, while skilled laborers are prevented from moving in and out of Gaza for work—both affirming Israel’s broader policy to prevent free movement of people and goods.


Al Mezan congratulates all workers on their Day and calls on the international community to take swift actions that will put an end to Israel’s closure and blockade of Gaza, and halt violations of basic human rights and IHL in the oPt.


Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian political parties to reinvigorate their efforts to end the political divide, and to take all necessary measures to pave the way towards full reconciliation and unity. Furthermore, Al Mezan urges the Palestinian government to implement effective policies that will protect people’s basic right to work, and combat chronic unemployment –policies that are essential for alleviation of poverty and prevention from further deterioration of the Palestinian social fabric.


Al Mezan also calls on all Palestinian workers’ unions to multiply their efforts that will lead towards full realization of their basic rights and lead towards a life in dignity.