Thursday, October 06, 2016

Class War in Gaza

There are 360,000 Palestinians over age 15, male and female, who work or have worked in the private sector in the Gaza Strip, where the total population is estimated at 1.88 million. 220,000 of those 360,000 workers are unemployed, and the unemployment rate for both men and women of working age in the private sector reached 61%. The overall unemployment rate in Gaza, which includes private sector workers, government workers and college graduates, has reached 41%.

In 1965, the PLO established the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), an independent labor organization with the mission of defending the interests of the Palestinian working class against potential violations by their employers or the ruling authorities and ensuring workers' rights in accordance with Palestinian Labor Law. There are approximately 70,000 members in the PGFTU, which consists of 12 unions for workers in the following sectors: hotels, restaurants and tourism; agriculture and industry; petrochemicals; construction; health; municipalities; banking and insurance; public services; transportation; communications and information technology; weaving; and fishing.

Al-Monitor interviewed PGFTU head Sami al-Amasi in his Gaza City office to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip. He highlighted violations committed by employers against their workers.

“The situation of the Palestinian unions is quite hard in light of the Palestinian division that erupted in 2007 and made them unable to provide good services for all Gazans of working age. This division resulted in several governments operating at the same time in Palestine; such is the case with Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority’s rule in the West Bank. This is why we do not know who to deal with or who to approach to convey our demands; each party claims the other is responsible.”

“The minimum monthly wage in the West Bank was set at 1,450 shekels [$386], but in the Gaza Strip, there is no such thing as a minimum wage in light of the deteriorating economic situation and absence of jobs. This is why the local construction companies offer low wages for workers, at 600 shekels a month [$160]. … Unfortunately, there is no authority in Gaza to control this dire situation.”

“There are huge violations from employers against their employees. For instance, employers refuse to sign any contract with the employee to deprive them of their end-of-service rights such as financial dues. Moreover, wages are low, and workers aren’t paid overtime. For instance, workers in bakeries work for 12 continuous hours daily for 30 shekels [$8] a day. This is against the Palestinian Labor Law.
 But the PGFTU is also facing problems in ensuring the rights of employees, as the employee is afraid of filing a complaint against his boss for fear of being fired and not finding another job. Moreover, trial procedures in Gaza take a long time and could last up to five years to issue a final verdict in a certain case. All this time, the employee must pay his lawyers, and this is costly. Under this tough situation and in the absence of a judicial body, the PGFTU can only do so much.”

“The real problem with these laws is that they are mere talk and are not effectively implemented. If a worker files a lawsuit before the court against his employer, it takes ages to be examined due to the long trial procedures. For instance, if a worker dies after being injured at work, the law guarantees his family the salary of 3,650 days, which means around $40,000-$45,000 that is paid by the employer of the deceased worker, as per the Labor Law. But, nobody abides by this law, with the long procedures in the state’s courts. We need a law to establish special labor courts to decide on labor issues, expedite trial proceedings and guarantee all workers their rights. We have been calling on the Palestinian Legislative Council to issue this law, but it has not responded.”

“The national consensus government … is not making any real efforts to create jobs in Gaza or to improve the workers’ living conditions. On March 24, the government approved the social security law for workers, but it does not resemble any social security law in any country in the world: There is no health insurance, no old-age insurance, no disability, death and work injury insurance and no maternity insurance, and it does not guarantee any financial provisions for the unemployed.”

“The government does not spend donor funds to employ those who need jobs. For instance, in March 2015, the government received a grant worth 20 million euros [$22.4 million] provided by the Italian government to find jobs for the unemployed, and the grant was enough to provide temporary jobs for about 100,000 workers. All the unemployed in Gaza were quite happy about this news, but to our shock, the government announced in February 2016 it was providing job opportunities for only 2,500 university graduates. One might wonder where the rest of the grant was spent, although it was originally allocated to provide jobs for the unemployed.”

“Unemployment cannot be solved without exporting labor abroad. The Gaza Strip cannot employ 360,000 people. There were governmental efforts in 2015 to send hundreds of unemployed people from the Gaza Strip abroad, especially to Qatar and Kuwait. But, unfortunately, nobody was sent due to the political division between Gaza and the West Bank. With the current division, there are no prospects of sending [this population] abroad.”

“The 2014 Israeli war left devastating partial and complete damage of 860 industrial facilities. Their reconstruction process has not begun yet because the citizens’ houses are still being repaired and they are more of a priority. I think that reconstructing the facilities is still far off.”

“Reconstruction projects are funded by several international bodies and Arab governments in accordance with what was agreed upon at the [Cairo] donor conference for the reconstruction of Gaza, held in October 2014. These bodies include the United Nations and the European Union, while Arab countries such as Kuwait and Qatar provide regular financial grants to support the reconstruction of destroyed houses. These projects have created jobs for about 30,000 workers, but that number is constantly decreasing due to Israel's failure to allow the entry of enough cement into Gaza; Israel only allows 3,000 tons of cement per day, and this constitutes 15% of Gaza’s daily requirement of cement for reconstruction to proceed at a normal pace. Thus, the continuation of reconstruction works depends on the entry of raw materials, particularly cement.”

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