A multitude of obstacles arising out of 50 years of Israeli occupation dominate the everyday reality of working women and men and their families in the occupied Arab territories, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says in a new report.
The 2017 edition of “The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories ” cites stringent constraints on movement and economic activity, a longstanding blockade of the Gaza Strip, and a stalled peace process coupled with intensifying Israeli settlement activity as critical determinants of continued deterioration in the occupied territories.
The Director-General’s annual report, submitted to the ILO’s International Labour Conference in June, examines employment and labour market conditions and rights of workers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the occupied Syrian Golan.
“The harsh reality facing all efforts to strengthen the Palestinian labour market is the control that the occupation exercises over the Palestinian borders and the access to land, water and natural resources,” ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, says in his foreword to the report.
“The space for opportunities to work, farm, produce and create jobs in the occupied territories remains severely constrained,” Ryder says.
“The promotion and application of social justice and decent work must continue as vital cornerstones of the peace effort.”
Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
The report calls for the reanimation of the peace process with a view to achieving the two-state solution.
“One of the aims of the Oslo agreements was to establish well-functioning labour markets for both Israel and the Palestinians. This remains little more than a distant aspiration,” Ryder continues. “The promotion and application of social justice and decent work must continue as vital cornerstones of the peace effort,” he says.
Economic growth does take place in both the West Bank and Gaza, but the ILO mission that travelled to the region to document the report found that it remains well below its potential. Current growth is not enough to improve livelihoods, and it barely translates into employment gains.
“Perhaps no other indicators mirror the vulnerable situation of Palestinian livelihoods as dramatically as those related to the labour market,” the report states.
Unemployment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains pervasive, higher than in any other country in the Middle East and North Africa, and more than twice the regional average.
More than a quarter of the Palestinian labour force is unemployed; joblessness among youth remains above 40 per cent. Fewer than half of Palestinians above 15 years of age are economically active, and two thirds of youth now remain outside the labour force. Less than one in five women work.
The situation is particularly dire for the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, which has been sealed off by land, air and sea for the past decade. Unemployment here remains well above 40 per cent, and the majority of economically active youth – 60 per cent – are jobless. Among graduates, joblessness is almost universal. Gazans remain unable to move for work elsewhere. “The overall economic and labour market situation is suffocating,” the ILO Director-General adds.
In the West Bank, the restrictions on movement and economic activity and the overbearing presence of Israeli settlements have fragmented the labour market and impeded the development of a viable and vibrant Palestinian economy, the report stresses.
The effect of working in Israel and the settlements
The report also notes that a lack of alternatives has obliged an increasing number of Palestinian men and women to seek work in Israel and the settlements. Average wages of Palestinians working in Israel are more than twice as high as in the West Bank. About one quarter of the total wages earned by Palestinians of the West Bank comes from employment in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Yet, many of the more than 100,000 Palestinian workers in the Israeli economy face hardship and exploitation, in particular by unscrupulous brokers who make disproportionate profits out of matching Palestinian jobseekers with Israeli employers. Through scenarios, the report estimates that even if only 40 per cent of Palestinian workers in the Israeli economy are affected by the brokers, this would amount to a US$380 million “broker tax” in 2016, with nearly 17 per cent of all wages earned by Palestinians in Israel being captured by brokers. However, the report notes that some of these pressing issues are now being addressed by the Israeli authorities who intend to introduce reforms to the permit and wage payment systems.
It also calls for urgent action to remedy the often humiliating situations Palestinians face at Israeli crossing points, arising out of overcrowding and long waiting times.
With their employment situation and labour market prospects becoming increasingly bleak, frustration among Palestinian youth can feed radicalization and violence, the report warns.
Obstacles to state-building
With state-building continuing on the Palestinian side, the report stresses that Palestinian institutions are sufficiently robust to support the emerging state, although further investments in governance capacity are needed.
State-building remains significantly constrained, however, by the continuing internal divide as well as by a decrease in international donor funding.
Recent advancements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory such as the development of the National Policy Agenda and the promulgation of the social security law for private sector workers risk remaining ineffective without the external funding needed for their implementation.
Palestinians “require substantial budget support and continued development and humanitarian assistance, particularly to alleviate the suffering in Gaza, and donors need to be conscious that the Palestinian Authority and indeed a viable Palestinian state cannot stand on their own financially”, the report maintains.
It concludes: “The ‘Oslo Generation,’ born after the 1993 treaty, accounts for the majority of the population. It needs hope and direction. The price of tension is simply too high. The world community must stay engaged with a view to fostering peace in the Middle East and full statehood for the Palestinians.”
The annual report of the ILO on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories was prepared by members of an ILO mission which visited the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel and the occupied Syrian Golan. The report will be submitted to the ILO’s International Labour Conference, which opens in Geneva on 5 June 2017