European trade unionists shocked by labor situation of Palestinians in Israel

The delegation of European trade unionists and trade experts. The following organizations took part in the delegation: CC.OO. and CIG from Spain; COBAS from Italy; from Belgium, ACV-CSC’s construction branch and the International Solidarity Fund of the WCL; SiD from Denmark; FNV Bondgenoten from the Netherlands; GBI from Switzerland; from Germany, IG Metall’s Berlin branch and TIE (Transnational Information Exchange), an NGO. (Photo: WAC)


AMSTERDAM — A group of 14 trade unionists from seven European countries visited the region last week in order to investigate the labor situation of the Palestinians, both those in Israel and those from the Occupied Territories. Their visit was initiated and organized by the Workers Advice Centre (WAC) - Ma’an.

The delegates spoke with researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They also met with representatives of the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. NGO’s Kav La’Oved, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Adva Research Centre presented their views. The delegates met with a representative from the Histadrut and, in Ramallah, with a delegation of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. In Nazareth, Um al-Fahem and Kufr Qara, the group conversed with Arab Israelis who have returned to organized work through WAC’s activity. It also met WAC members and migrant laborers who work together at a construction site near Tel Aviv, as well as Palestinian workers, organized by WAC, from the refugee camp of Shu’afat.

On the First of May, at a public meeting organized by WAC in Haifa, a spokesperson of the European trade unionists declared that the group was shocked by the grave and humiliating situation confronting Palestinian and migrant workers. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories suffer from closures imposed by Israel, which have driven unemployment up to an official rate of 40% (the unofficial rate is much higher). As for Arab workers in Israel, the delegation found that they are victims of direct and indirect discrimination. The confiscation of their land reserves, the lack of occupational training, competition from contracted foreign migrant workers and overt discrimination have weakened their situation in the labor market.

Foreign migrant workers are exploited by personnel (“manpower”) agencies and bound to a specific employer. This kind of shackling makes the workers completely dependent on the arbitrariness of the employer. Their dependence is increased by the premium they have to pay to the personnel agencies, and sometimes also to governmental institutions in their countries of origin. Brought to Israel in the 1990’s, and now amounting to more than 10% of the labor force, the migrants have been used by Israeli employers to destroy the system of collective labor agreements. By creating a cheap reservoir of workers, the employers attempt to pit the migrants against the Palestinians who have lost their jobs. These inequities represent a clear violation of ILO and UN treaties on migrant labor, treaties ratified by Israel.

The European delegates will raise these issues in their unions. They will also bring their findings before international labor organizations such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labor (WCL), the ILO and the United Nations.

The following organizations took part in the delegation: CC.OO. and CIG from Spain; COBAS from Italy; from Belgium, ACV-CSC’s construction branch and the International Solidarity Fund of the WCL; SiD from Denmark; FNV Bondgenoten from the Netherlands; GBI from Switzerland; from Germany, IG Metall’s Berlin branch and TIE (Transnational Information Exchange), an NGO.

The delegation will be finalizing a comprehensive report within two weeks. For a copy of the document, as well as the full program of the delegation, please contact WAC spokesperson Michal Freedman: 972-57- 7292808 or wacjaffa@netvision.net.il.