National Social Dialogue Conference, Occupied Palestinian Territory

A better future for Palestinians

Prioritizing employment, workers’ rights, social protection and social dialogue will be essential if Palestinians are to create a human-centred recovery from COVID-19 that is sustainable and inclusive, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder told Palestinian tripartite constituents.

Statement | 03 March 2021
Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Mohamed Eshteyah,
Honourable Minister of Labour, Dr. Nasri Abu Jaish,
Mr. Shaher Saad, Secretary General of Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, and ILO Governing Body member,
Mr. Omar Hashem, President of Federation of Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Agriculture,
Honourable Fayez Al- Mutairi, Director-General of the Arab Labour Organization,
My friend Ambassador of Palestine in Geneva, Mr Ibrahim Khraishi,
My Colleagues in the ILO, in Jerusalem and in Beirut,
Dear Friends,

It is indeed an honour to take part in this mostly important and timely Conference bringing together the government, and the employers and workers of Palestine to develop collective strategies for a better future for Palestinian, all Palestinians, women and men, in the West Bank and in Gaza. And I want to begin by congratulating you all on your perseverance and commitment in this most important initiative, one that I believe is critically needed during these difficult moments.

Dear Friends,

The world entered 2021 with an unprecedented crisis in jobs, incomes and a heightened level of uncertainty about what is to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on societies and economies across the globe. We know that more than 2 million people globally have already lost their lives. But the health crisis has also become a social and economic and in some instances a humanitarian crisis as well.

And as we look forward, as you are today, for a way forward, our sights need to be set not simply on going back to where we started from, but moving forward in a new and a better direction to ensure that the new normal in labour markets is in fact a better normal - one with greater social justice and with access to decent work for all.

Allow me to give you very quickly an idea of the global dimensions of the world of work crisis which COVID-19 has brought. As is already been said, there has not been a crisis of this size for the last century, not in the history of ILO.

We have calculated that the number of hours that were actually worked in the course of 2020 fell by 8.8 per cent. And that is the equivalent of the destruction, ladies and gentlemen, of 255 million full-time jobs around the world.

And if you break down that horrible figure, what do you find?

You find that about half of that loss of work is because of people who are working less hours or no hours at all, but still remain in employment. They have not lost their jobs, but they are not working very much.

After that, most of the losses is caused by people simply going into inactivity. They have left the labour market, they are discouraged, and they are no longer even looking for work.

Open unemployment in the world has also gone up very significantly. We estimate by 33 million, but that does not measure the full impact of this crisis.

And within this terrible situation, it is the most vulnerable, those already most disadvantaged on labour markets who have been hit the hardest.

The low paid have suffered the biggest loss of income.

Those in precarious forms at work without full-time formal contracts have lost their work at a greater rate.

Women have suffered disproportionately.

And I have to insist that young have been hit to such an extent that we do truly run the risk of seeing the generation lost through the pandemic.

And if you add all of this up, the hit to wages and salaries has been quite extraordinary.

Income from labour has come down by 8.3 per cent over the last year. And that is a loss of 4.4 per cent of Global Domestic Product.

Excellencies, dear Friends,

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the situation reflects all of these things. Latest statistics show that the unemployment rate stood at 23.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020, but averaged more than 25 per cent for the year as a whole. And unemployment remains dramatically high for young people, women, and for Gaza residents.

The unemployment rate among youth remains alarmingly high with 36.3 per cent, with young women’s unemployment standing at 61.6 per cent. And if I give you the figures for Gaza, you all know that they are even more alarming.

Excellencies, in the coming days, the annual ILO’ Mission to Palestine will take place. It will take place virtually this time, and it will report on the Situation of workers and their families to the next session of the International Labour Conference in June this year. I am confident and I thank you for your support, I am grateful for your cooperation with my Mission throughout the years. The Mission always gives an updated and comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground, and guides us in designing and implementing our interventions and support to you for achieving decent work in Palestine. And let me take this important opportunity to congratulate you all for the many things that we have achieved within the Decent Work Programme that I was able to sign with you during my visit to Palestine in April of 2018.

Having said all of this excellencies, I am greatly encouraged that today Palestinian tripartite constituents are meeting to explore and to agree on the most effective efforts in responding to the pandemic.

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, you already took an important step with the tripartite agreement that was signed in March of last year, an agreement which protects payment of workers’ wages, and provides for the rolling out of an emergency response plan focusing on the health and welfare of the public, particularly as is appropriate for the most vulnerable.

And despite the very severe fiscal conditions that you face, and the many constrains imposed by occupation, these initiatives clearly demonstrate the will and, of course, the legendary resilience of the Palestinian people.

Let me congratulate in particular the Minister of Labour for his leading role in these endeavours.

I want to congratulate also Mr. Shaher Saed, a member of ILO Governing Body, for successfully concluding the PGFTU’s sixth congress, including elections, which renewed the democratic mandate of trade union leadership, which is essential to realizing workers’ rights. I also congratulate the PGFTU’s on increasing the representation of women in union leadership to 30 per cent.

In the same way, I want to congratulate the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, through its President, for their agility, resilience and innovation it has showed during such extremely challenging times for the private sector, in particular for smaller businesses. The pandemic crisis has reminded us all of the crucial convening role that employer organizations play, and I commend your unrelenting efforts in maintaining dialogue and cooperation with the government and with worker representatives, to achieve common goals of alleviating the suffering of the most affected workers and businesses, and helping them to recover better.

Excellencies, Dear Friends,

It is widely understood that COVID-19 has accelerated changes that were already happening, both in society and at work. And even if tentative signs of recovery are emerging in global labour markets, they are fragile, they are uncertain, and we must remember that no country, no group will recover alone if others do not.

That means that policy responses need to be global. They need to combine equitable access to vaccination for all, public health measures, and measures to support the economic and labour market recovery for which we are all working.

We need to support a recovery that is robust and broad-based, focusing on employment, income, workers’ rights and social dialogue. In short, what we at the ILO call “a human-centred recovery”.

We urgently need to reduce inequalities through human-centred macroeconomic and investment policies, and by ensuring equal opportunity for accessing decent jobs and income.

And the reality is, it is a harsh reality, that without adequate social protection, cash transfers and other means to secure income, many more households rest falling into poverty and indeed extreme poverty.

Honourable Prime Minister,

If you would allow me to recall the speech that you delivered when you honoured us with your presence at the ILO Centenary Conference in 2019 in Geneva. You stated and I take the liberty of quoting you:

“Strengthening and investing in individual and institutions building are important to the Palestinians… We want to develop these areas because we are building a State that is successful, able to serve its populations and respond to their needs.”

And as I recall the above, at the same time, I congratulate you all for developing – through tripartite social dialogue – and adopting your first National Employment Strategy. Congratulation on this important step. And I reiterate the ILO’s commitment in supporting the implementation of the Strategy and investing in your people, in your institutions and in the future of your economy.

Your Strategy is remarkable for its rigour and for its ambition.

Crucially, the Strategy aims to respond both to the immediate pandemic-induced emergency, as well as longer-term structural labour market challenges, that have been shaped by decades of occupation.

And this Strategy seems to me very well aligned with the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. And here, allow to stress the importance again of focusing on people, a human-centred recovery for building back better, by prioritizing employment, income and social protection, workers’ rights and social dialogue. If we want a lasting, sustainable and inclusive recovery for Palestinians, this is the path that I believe we must all commit to.

Similarly, I commend the renewed commitment from your leadership and by tripartite-led efforts to support income security through launching inclusive national dialogue on social security reform for private sector workers – something we worked upon for a long time already.

I am also pleased to learn that tripartite dialogue on labour, economic and social policies is progressing, and that reforms to labour legislation and to wage polices are being discussed.

Your persistent efforts towards improving compliance and reinforcement mechanisms and building sound industrial relations are commendable.

Congratulations to you all on these accomplishments.

I want to assure you that the ILO stands ready to support you, as government, workers and employers, to meet these commitments and implement them effectively.

And if, in conclusion, there is one key message that I can convey during this difficult time, it is that social dialogue has never been more important. I know it is not always the easiest path but it is the right path. It boosts national resilience. It gives a feeling of ownership, and helps policy-makers lead recovery from the crisis through innovation, real partnership, and solidarity.

So this conference marks a great milestone in Palestinian tripartite relations. It sets the path to an effective, democratic, just and inclusive framework for policy-making on social and economic issues.

My only regret is that I cannot be with you in Ramallah to joining your work over the next few days, but I wish you all, all success, for a successful Conference.

Thank you.