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Occupied Arab territories

ILO calls for renewed efforts to promote peace, decent jobs and social justice for Palestinian workers

Applying the principles of social justice and decent work could help to address persistent inequalities, tensions and vulnerability in the West Bank and Gaza.

Press release | 25 May 2016
© Mohamad Badarne
GENEVA (ILO News) – A continuation of the peace process is a precondition for job and wealth creation, decent work and social justice for all in the occupied Arab territories, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says in a new report.

The report calls on the international community to assist in providing the parameters of a just and fair solution for all, particularly the employers and workers in the occupied Arab territories. It is concerned that the peace process has been at a standstill for a year. Violence has escalated since October 2015 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unemployment remains high, and in Gaza it is the highest in the world. The situation of Palestinian workers is increasingly precarious.

The annual report of the ILO on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories will be submitted to the ILO’s International Labour Conference, which opens in Geneva on 30 May 2016.

“The current road is fraught with dangers. In order to address the persistent vast inequalities between economic performance, employment and income, and freedom of movement and enterprise between two peoples in the same region, the principles of social justice and decent work must be applied,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says in his foreword to the report.

The report notes a climate of economic stagnation, where GDP growth did not meet expectations and was especially weak in the West Bank. This resulted in only a small improvement with respect to total unemployment, which eased from 27 per cent in 2014 to 25.9 per cent in 2015, and is not indicative of a healthier labour market.

© Mohamad Badarne
Palestinian youth face even harsher prospects as youth unemployment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory exceeds 40 per cent, while indicators of women’s participation in the labour force, employment and unemployment all deteriorated over the course of the year.

Meanwhile, employment of Palestinians in Israel and the settlements grew by a further 5.1 per cent in 2015, representing 11.6 per cent of total Palestinian employment.

While greater access for Palestinians to work in the Israeli economy has provided some relief in the West Bank, the report notes that this is no substitute for permitting the development of the Palestinian economic base. Opportunities in the Israeli labour market, especially in the settlements, also carry a persistent risk of exploitation, abuse by brokers and violations of fundamental rights at work.

With respect to Gaza, the report says that economic and employment growth has taken place, but from a very low base, and is now driven solely by the reconstruction effort. Conditions should be created for rebuilding the productive sectors of Gaza, which has been decimated by three wars and eight years of siege. While permits to work in Israel have been increased for the West Bank, they are not available for the workers of Gaza.

Overcoming the Palestinian divide through negotiations is also essential to stem the increase in violence and retaliatory measures in the West Bank which have exacerbated the hardship for Palestinian working women and men, whose rights are being further restricted and violated.

According to the report, the constraints arising from the occupation and separation hamper all economic and employment growth prospects. Palestinian economic activity and employment would require the full use of land, resources and material inputs in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. However, the Palestinians are prevented from accessing and developing most of the area which should become the basis of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians also urgently need unhindered access to internal and international markets.

The report also documents the latest developments in the building up of Palestinian institutions and especially social and labour-related processes for social dialogue, gender equality, social security and vocational education and training. It says that Palestinian institutions and labour governance continue to be strengthened. The new Law on Social Security should provide protection for private sector workers and encourage employment in this sector.

Other initiatives, such as the labour and trade union laws, need to be brought to fruition. The full potential of tripartite cooperation needs to be used for the state-building process.

Moreover, significant growth and job creation are possible only if women are better included in economic life.

The Syrian citizens of the occupied Syrian Golan are also covered by the report. They continue to be subject to constraints arising out of occupation, and the current crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic is further limiting their economic and employment options.

The findings of the report are based on a mission that involved in-depth discussions and a number of field visits to the occupied Arab territories and Israel in April this year. Since 1980, the Director-General has been mandated to present an annual report to the International Labour Conference on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan.