Unions and ILO Report: Palestinian Workers Face Abuse in Israel

High unemployment in the West Bank has forced tens of thousands of Palestinians to seek jobs in Israel, where they face abuse, inadequate pay, and poor working conditions, Palestinian officials say. “In 2014, we documented hundreds of Israeli violations against Palestinian workers in Israel,” Shaher Saad, head of the Palestinian Workers’ Union (PWU), told the Turkey-based Anadolu News Agency. “We are following up on dozens of cases in Israeli courts of abuse by Israeli employers, related to work-related injuries, compensation, and end-of-service benefits,” he added.

Palestinian workers cross the Sha'ar Efraim checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Tul-Karem, on their way to work in Israel, December 22, 2014.

Palestinian workers cross the Sha’ar Efraim checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Tul-Karem, on their way to work in Israel, December 22, 2014 (Photo: Activestills)

On Thursday, May 28, the International Labor Organization (ILO) released its annual report on the situation of workers from the occupied Palestinian territories. The report found that up to a third of the estimated 107,000 Palestinians working within the Israeli economy “work in unregulated conditions which can be precarious and exploitative.”

The ILO report added: “Without functioning labor exchanges, workers may have to rely on unscrupulous brokers. In cases of work-related accidents or disputes, remedies are difficult to obtain even under regular circumstances, let alone when no permit has been issued.” According to Saad of the PWU, there are more than 55,000 Palestinians working in Israeli entities with permits, while another 30,000 have none. Of this total of 85,000 Palestinian workers, approximately 60,000 are working in Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, roughly half of them without work permits.

In addition, Palestinian workers in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories often face poor working conditions and unequal pay when compared to their Israeli counterparts. “The average daily income of the Palestinian worker who holds a work permit in Israel is 186 Israeli shekels [roughly $48], while one who doesn’t have a permit gets around 160 shekels [roughly $41],” Saad explained. “Meanwhile, the minimum monthly wage in Israel is 4,650 shekels [roughly $1,200], although [unregulated] Palestinian workers earn less than 3,500 shekels [roughly $900], which clearly demonstrates the exploitation of Palestinian labor by Israeli employers,” he added.

Rami Mahdawi, general director of operations at the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, said most Palestinian workers had been subject to violations – in one form or another – in Israel’s labor market. “Most Palestinians who work in Israel do so in the fields of construction or agriculture,” Mahdawi said. “Many of these workers are exposed to a wide range of violations by Israeli employers, as they work in unsanitary conditions and are harassed by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints,” he added. “In many cases, they do not receive end-of-service benefits, which is a flagrant violation of international labor laws,” the official noted.

Such violations, he said, had led the Palestinian government to consider joining the ILO with a view to bringing Israeli violators to account. “The ILO report, which highlights the poor working conditions of Palestinian workers in Israel, exposes Israeli discrimination against Palestinian workers,” he said. The report, however, failed to cover all the problems afflicting Palestinians working in the self-proclaimed Jewish state, according to Mahdawi. “In 2014, 15 Palestinian workers died inside Israel due to poor working conditions,” he added.