In a historical move, 25 Palestinian unions and federations mobilized today in the public and private sectors to protest against unilateral decisions from the Palestinian government regarding the introduction of amendments to the tax law, the civil service law and the compulsory health insurance law, the proposed optional implementation of the pension law for the private sector, the draft trade union law, the draft strike law for the public sector and local government employees, and the lack of responsiveness of the government to specific union demands. They demanded that the government engage in effective social dialogue with all the unions that represent workers in the public and private sectors, under the motto: “Partners in building our country, partners in decision making!” The national action day, called for by the unions, was widely followed in the public sector and private sector organizations, with several banks closing their doors around mid-morning, while employees joined the movement. Sit-ins took place in many West Bank governorates (including Nablus and Hebron), while a central rally was organized in front of the Council of Ministers in Ramallah, during which representatives of several political factions of the Palestinian Legislative Council expressed their support to the unions’ demands and reaffirmed that the government cannot assume legislative power and forgo consultations and discussions with all concerned parties, parliament members foremost.
The national action day was organized by the Governmental Employees’ Union, the Allied Health Professionals Federation, the UNRWA Area Staff Union, the Federation of Independent Unions-Palestine and its member and partner unions: the Federation of University Professors and Employees Unions, the Finance Sector Employees Union, the General Union of Palestinian Farmers, the Local Authorities Workers’ Union, the General Union of Electricity Sector Workers in Palestine, the Pharmaceutical Industry Employees’ Union, the Governmental Higher Education Colleges and Universities Employees Federation, Jawwal Company Employees’ Union, Kindergarten Employees’ Union, NGOs workers’ committees, Ramallah municipality workers’ committee, Emergency Medical Service Union, Huloul IT Company Employees’ Union, the General Union of Private Health Sector Employees, food industry workers’ committees, the Palestinian Nursing Council, the Palestinian Postmen Union, the Governmental Health Service Workers’ Union, the Jerusalem Water Undertaking Employees Union, and the Bethlehem drivers’ union.
One of the major issues raised by the unions is the fundamental injustice of the proposed tax law amendments that would impose taxation on the severance pay of public and private sector, as well as on the pension allowances of retired public sector employees and earnings of small farmers. As mentioned by the head of the Federation of Palestinian University Professors and Employees Trade Unions, Dr. Amjad Barham “Since we are still deprived of the benefits of a pension system, we only have our severance pay to live on when we retire, which is not much. Now the government wants to impose taxation on our severance pay. Are we supposed to work as street vendors – with all respect to this profession - to earn a living after dedicating years of our lives to educating our youth? Is this the future we deserve?” He also reminded that for the past six months, their numerous attempts to meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had been unsuccessful.
Since the beginning of 2010, the Federation of Independent Unions-Palestine and its member unions have been campaigning relentlessly for the implementation of the pension law – currently benefiting only public sector employees - to all other categories of workers entitled to it (the private and non-governmental sectors, as well as local government workers); the government’s proposed regulation falls short of their expectations, as it would render the pension system optional, while the law confirmed by a presidential decree stipulates that it should be compulsory for all sectors. Unions are also extremely concerned about the proposed strike law for public sector and local government employees that would place serious restrictions on this right in contravention of the Palestinian Basic Law, as well as international labor standards.
Bassam Zakarneh, the president of the Governmental Employees’ Union, announced that the unions decided to suspend their actions for a period of one month, to give a chance to establishing a dialogue, following the promise made by President Mahmoud Abbas not to ratify any legislation before constructive discussions could take place with union representatives and all other concerned parties.