International Solidarity Meeting with the People and Workers of Palestine and other occupied Arab Territories

Statement by Catelene Passchier, Chairperson of the Workers’ Group

Statement | Geneva | 31 May 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to address this meeting on behalf of the Workers Group, the representatives of trade unions worldwide in the ILO, in solidarity with the people and workers, men and women, of Palestine.

This year, the report of the ILO Director General on “the situation of workers in the Occupied Arab Territories” comes at very worrying times.

Following decades of occupation, segregation, dispossession, and violation of international law, on 30 March 2018, Palestinians in the Gaza strip have embarked on a six-week campaign of largely peaceful protests. Since the beginning of the protests, until 15 May 2018, approximately 107 Palestinian people have been systematically killed with live ammunition by Israel, and many more have been seriously injured. The Workers’ Group fully supports the United Nations Secretary General’s call for an independent investigation into the killings, ensuring legal accountability for perpetrators of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

We have read with strong concern the ILO Director General’s report that stresses, and I quote: “Israeli occupation continues to dominate all aspects of life of the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. If anything, the occupation has become further entrenched. (…)

The space for opportunities to work, farm, produce and create jobs in the occupied territories remains severely constrained”.
– end of quote.
We share the DG’s concerns about the increased settlement expansion, involving expropriation, evictions, demolitions and the prevailing planning regime in area A and C, that are a major obstacle to peace and social and economic development and to the fulfilment of the socio-economic rights of Palestinians.

The Workers’ Group strongly insists that the only acceptable basis for resolution of the conflict and ending the Israeli occupation is the two-state solution. It is widely understood in the international community that the status of Jerusalem should be defined as part of the process of negotiations. President Trump’s announcement, pre-emptively and unilaterally defining that status, is not only an affront to Palestinians, especially those living in Jerusalem and facing encroachment of settlements onto their land; it also causes real damage to the prospects for peaceful negotiations to bring about peace and the establishment of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and in line with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Unemployment in Palestine has reached its highest level recorded since the past 15 years, and Palestinian workers have to resort to sometimes abusive and unreliable labour brokers to obtain a work permit inside Israel. The UN has declared Gaza unliveable by 2020. As the DG rightly points out, how much more can the resilience of Palestinian people and workers be tested?

In this context, the Workers Group welcomes the renewal of the Palestinian Decent Work Country Programme, signed by government, employers and the Palestinian trade union organisation PGFTU in April of this year. The Programme sets the framework for joint ILO-Palestinian work from 2018-2022. It prioritizes promoting employment and livelihoods, strengthening labour market governance and labour rights, and increasing social security and social protection. We wish to stress in this regard the significant role of the PGFTU in laying down the foundations of solid labour market institutions and decent work in Palestine.

However, for these interventions to be effective and meaningful for workers, we need to exert all efforts to make sure that the Israeli occupation ends and that illegal settlements are dismantled. We reiterate, that without the prospect for a sovereign Palestinian state in full control over its economic activities, employment and social policies reforms will be jeopardized.

The Workers’ Group calls upon the ILO to ensure that the new Decent Work Country Programme will step up efforts to regulate the labour permits and tackle illegal and lucrative labour brokers’ practices, and to ensure the establishment of a social protection floor as well as implementation of minimum living wages. Moreover, more needs to be done to ensure that Israel transfers the social security contributions to the Palestinian Authority. This should go hand in hand with the ratification of ILO core conventions on freedom of association and the protection of the right to organise and collective bargaining, No 87 and 98, applying to all Palestinian workers, when working in or for Israel as well as in Palestine.

We continue to strongly call for serious and effective international efforts to bring about a viable and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and call for genuine and effective assistance to the Palestinian people to sustain the continued performance of the Palestinian institutions.

I thank you for your attention