On May Day, the Palestinian trade union movement salutes workers around the world, especially all essential workers putting their lives on the line during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We pay tribute to all the workers and workplace activists we have lost to this virus. This pandemic has exposed how essential, yet undervalued and unrecognized our collective labour is to the functioning of the global economy.
Here in Occupied Palestine, we face this pandemic under conditions of colonial discrimination, a military occupation and a 13-year siege on the Gaza strip. Years of systemic economic de-development policies have left Palestinians with inadequate health infrastructure, a stagnating economy and unprecedented levels of unemployment over 34% in the West Bank and Gaza before the spread of COVID-19 and have since risen to more than 60%. The assault on our very livelihoods has been methodical and continuous. Palestinian peasants and workers bear the brunt of Israel’s policies of land confiscation, movement restrictions, and a discriminatory permit system. This pandemic exacerbates this already dire situation. Yet, as always, we remain steadfast and hope this moment can also create new openings, helping us to connect with others to build workers power and a renewed internationalism.

We note, that the pandemic has not stopped or eased the military occupation’s practices – Israeli soldiers have shut down clinics in Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, settler violence has escalated, while arbitrary arrests and home demolitions continue. Most disturbing has been the treatment of the 133,000 Palestinian workers inside the Green Line and illegal settlements, many lost their jobs or continued employment was made conditional on them staying inside the Green Line. In the meantime, Israeli employers never provided adequate housing or healthcare provisions, eventually forcing many workers to return to the West Bank. Workers who contracted the virus on the job were given no health care, some were deserted at checkpoints for merely displaying COVID-19 symptoms. The Israeli economy depends and thrives on the back of exploiting Palestinian workers, particularly construction workers, yet wants to hold no responsibility for their health and safety. It is telling that the majority of recorded COVID-19 cases (74%) in the West Bank are labourers who work inside the Green Line and illegal settlements or those in their immediate surroundings. For example, the first mortality was of a woman who contracted the virus from her son who worked in the Settlement Industrial Zones.

In this context, we stress that the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut receives dues form these Palestinian workers, deducted directly from salaries – dues estimated at 3 million NIS monthly – these deductions are meant for social benefits and trade union protections. Technically the Histadrut splits these dues with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), but many times they are withheld. Despite deducting dues from workers’ wages, to date the Histadrut has said and done nothing to protect their basic rights to safe working conditions and health benefits. The current situation highlights clearly, yet again, the Histadrut’s status as quasi-state institution, invested in maintaining Israel’s stranglehold over the Palestinian people. It operates against Palestinian worker’s rights and never for them. We urge rank and file members of all trade unions to renew efforts to boycott the Histadrut and pressure it to end its system of wage deduction without rights, in violation of workers’ basic rights and international standards. As the Histadrut continues to exploit Palestinian workers, trade unions internationally should not give cover for its actions.

Finally, while exploitative Israeli policies against Palestinian workers are long standing, we are also enduring harsh austerity measures due to cuts in donor aid and structural adjustment policies imposed by international financial institutions. The Palestinian Authority’s adherence to a strict neoliberal economic program has weakened our collective bargaining power. Steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to contain the virus have thus far been biased to the interest of Palestinian capital, rather than shielding and supporting workers.

We ask all trade unions and solidarity organisations standing with the Palestinian people, to make central in their work and demands the lives of Palestinian workers and the most vulnerable in society.

• General Federation of Independent Labour Unions – Palestine (GFILU)
• Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union (PPSWU)
• Federation of Municipalities – Hebron
• Birzeit University Union of Faculty and Staff.
• Union of Workers in Local Councils – Hebron

Source:  Workers in Palestine