PGFTU may have won campaign against PA ban on settlement work

Shahir Sä'id

The Palestinian trade union movement may have won a key victory for Palestinian workers, with a Palestinian Authority ban on West Bankers working in Israeli settlements seemingly unraveling.

The PA issued the ban prohibiting Palestinians from working in West Bank settlements this year, as part of a wider campaign which included a national boycott of all Israeli settlement produce.

Boycott of settlement products still continues

The campaign against the purchase of products from the settlements is still continuing. The PA has recently expanded the campaign across the West Bank, and says certain localities in the West Bank now do not use any  items produced in the settlements.

This week both Israeli and Palestinian media have reported that the long touted plans will now not be implemented in the near future – if at all.

Unions warn of major disaster for workers and Palestinian economy

If this is the case then it can be interpreted as an important victory for the mainstream Palestinian union movement.

The PGFTU has warned, almost since the idea was first floated in May 2010, that a settlements work ban would be a major disaster for Palestinian workers,  and the Palestinian economy.

PGFTU defies PM and says union backs workers ignoring PA work bans

Soon after Prime Minister Fayyad announced plans to bring in legislation banning Palestinians from work in the settlements – with proposals to fine or jail workers who ignored the law – the key national trade union centre, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), began querying the proposal.

Just a few weeks ago, at the start of December,  the PGFTU General Secretary, Shahir Sa’ed,  repeated his opposition to the plan saying Palestinians employed in settlements will not give up their jobs until the Palestinian Authority provides alternative work.

The PGFTU leader said in his December statement that his union was prepared to back workers who defied the PA ban on working in the settlements.

This PGFTU statement was an almost carbon copy of earlier statements made by Shahir Sa’ed in July 2010.

Now the left-liberal Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported (on Tuesday December 28) that the PA has reconsidered a proposal that would have barred Palestinian laborers from working in West Bank Jewish settlements.

Palestinian media says PA still encouraging workers to abstain from taking settlement jobs

The next day the respected Palestinian news site, Ma’an,  put a more nuanced interpretation on the job plans by the Palestinian Authority  quoting PA spokesman Ghassan Khatub as saying: “The PA is progressing gradually with its plan to enforce a boycott on work in Israeli settlements by encouraging laborers to abstain from taking jobs there.”

Ma’an said Khatub was responding to the report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

” Khatib said officials were planning to go ahead with the boycott option, but at a pace that could ensure parallel work opportunities for Palestinians in local markets,” the Ma’an News Agency reported.

In May, PA Minister of National Economy Hasan Abu Libda announced the goal of zero Palestinians working in Israeli settlements by the end of 2011, saying that the interim years would see increased investment into local businesses, and efforts to create jobs to absorb would-be settlement laboyrers.

New permanent liaison committee to give unions stronger voice, more sympathetic ear

But according to Ha’aretz the policy had been taken out of the hands of the National Economy Minister and was now under the control of the Labour Minister Ahmed Majdalani, who told the Israeli newspaper he had no details to provide at the moment.

The Labour Minister is reputedly closer to the trade union movement, and more sympathetic to their concerns. Having the ear of a sympathetic Minister could increase the importance of trade unions in Palestinian society.

The Labour Minister recently helped create a permanent liaison committee between the unions and the Palestinian Authority, which will allow the PGFTU and other unions to have a stronger voice in PA policy development.

The Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority cabinet Na’im Abu Al-Hums told the Ma’an News Agency that once formed the liaison committee will hold regular meetings with the unions to solve existing, and any upcoming problems of complaints.

PA signals work ban pause, till alternative jobs available

Around 35,000 Palestinians work in the settlements – either legally or without formal permission. These workers support a Palestinian population of more than 200,000 and PA legislation barring employment in the settlements would be a major economic blow to the West Bank.

Associates of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Fayyad, are quoted by Ha’aretz as saying there was never an intention to pass legislation barring Palestinian employment in the settlements without suitable alternative employment.

They said the PA seeks to reduce the number of Palestinians working in the settlements, but there is no intention at this time to harm the labourers financially.

Read earlier reports on the TULIP website about the jobs ban and the PGFTU