Anti-union UNRWA official quits amid controversy

The West Bank director of UNRWA, Barbara Shenstone, who became a hate figure among members of the UNRWA Workers’ Union, has quit.

Shenstone took a hard-line attitude against the union; refusing to negotiate a pay agreement and prolonging a strike that shut down vital services right across the West Bank.

The two month long dispute shutdown schools and clinics, and saw garbage pile up on streets across the West Bank’s 19 refugee camps.

ITUC intervenes with UN General Secretary to resolve dispute

In what was considered an unprecedented act Ms Shenstone was severely criticised by the leader of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow.

Ms Burrow wrote to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, attacking the way UNRWA and Ms Shenstone had handled the union dispute.

The letter to Ban Ki-moon strongly hinted that while Ms Shenstone stayed in place there could be no resolution to the dispute; it  called on the UN Secretary General to use his good offices to help bring about ‘the necessary change in the position’ being taken by UNRWA’s management.

No public praise for Shenstone as she quits

UNRWA announced the resignation of both the West Bank head ( Ms Shenstone) and the Gaza boss of UNRWA, John Ging, at the same time. However they stated the two resignations at the same time were just a co-incidence. While Ging is taking on a new role with the UN, Shenstone is leaving the organisation and returning to her home in Canada.

Reporting the resignations the respected Palestinian news website Ma’an pointedly noted that while John Ging was loudly praised absent from UNRWA’s official remarks was any praise for Shenstone.

Palestinians called on Shenstone to ‘go home’

Last November Ma’an’s chief editor called on Shenstone to resign over her handling of the crisis.

“While Shenstone has all the credentials of a good leader, she lacks wise management skills. This became apparent as we watched her react to the workers on strike,” Nasser Laham wrote in his editorial.

During this recent long union dispute, involving between 5,000 and 7,500 UNRWA workers, Ms Shenstone had been particularly belligerent in dealing with the workers’ demands, consistently refusing to meet their representatives.

However for some years UNRWA has had very poor workplace relations with its union and their membership. (See earlier reports on the TULIP website below).

Palestinian society backed UNRWA workers

As a result the UNRWA workers received widespread support from across the West Bank.

This inclued the Palestinian leadership, including Prime Minister Fayyad and his Ministry of Labour; from the Palestinian national trade union centre, the PGFTU; as well as from the International Trade Union Confederation.

The Ministry of Labour firmly supported the UNRWA union saying the Palestinian workers were simply striking to defend their legal rights.

Partly as a result of this long-running, damaging dispute, the Palestinian Authority established a permanent liaison committee with the Palestinian union movement to give them a stronger voice and more sympathetic ear in the legislature.

Read earlier reports on UNRWA and its workforce