Bethlehem University Employees Union told PNN: Our protest strike continues & We ask president Abbas to intervene

Bethlehem /PNN/

The Bethlehem University Employees and Teachers Union announced the continuation of its strike and its protest measures against the administration’s decisions to dismiss security staff, in addition to other measures against employees.

The caretaker committee of the University Employees Union at Bethlehem said in a letter sent to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, asking him to intervene to end the measures announced by the university administration adding that Bethlehem University, represented by its executive council refuses to deal with the demands of the Union of Bethlehem University Employees, which aim to uphold the rights of Bethlehem University’s employees on financial, legal, and human sides, represented in employees’ salaries, revoking acquires rights, discharge of employees, respectively.

Bethlehem University Employees and Teachers Union call upon H.E. President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately instruct the relevant officials to protect the rights of the employees at Bethlehem University and to save the university from the destructive and arbitrary policies and measures enforced by the Executive Council and the Vice-Chancellor.

Bethlehem University Employees and Teachers Union also calls upon our students to stand by the union to support the rights of their professors and employees who are giving their utmost to respond to your needs at the university.

Bethlehem University Employees and Teachers Syndicate also call upon the mayors in the Bethlehem area and the local community to immediately intervene to defend the rights of the employees at the university, after all, they are part of this community and this country that sacrificed much for the sake of education to provide the best knowledge to its students and develop this institution.

The University Employees Union added that they would make their demands and measures clear to everyone saying that the union has made multiple concessions, most importantly, what is included in the agreement signed with the administration on 14 September 2020. The administration has bluntly violated the Palestinian Labor law and accepted to allow BU administration to deduct and hold some amounts of the employees’ salaries to terms defined in the agreements, since the union “as a gesture of goodwill” played along with BU administration’s claims of a financial crisis, although it is unclear to us.

The BU administration ignored the union, claiming a “legal void” and that there is no administration body for the union to carry out the tasks of the union, however, they have intentionally given a blind eye to the fact that the resigned board continues to do the tasks until it hands over to the new board. They could have rightfully communicated with the union through official channels to know the official and legal status of the union the employees said.

A caretaker board was established to run the union and we received a letter from the Ministry of Labor on 5 May 2021 that gives the caretaker board full authority to do fulfill the tasks of a full board until elections of a new board are duly held.

Despite this overlook by the BU administration, the union started a dialogue with the BU administration in April 2021 and several issues have been discussed, including job safety and the restructuring plan being implemented by the university.

After receiving the unilateral decision of the university of revoking the acquired right of the employees to reduced work hours for six weeks in the summer, and after the general meeting on 17 June 2021 for all faculty and staff of BU, the Vice President for Finance indicated that there are only two suggestions, “to release 18% of the employees or to freeze the degrees and ranks”, therefore the union held several meetings and the strike was suggested as a measure, which is a right of the General Assembly of the union to practice against the BU Administration plans that jeopardize the basic rights of employees and their families and food security the employees Union said.

148 BU employees (141 GA members, and 7 non-union members) have signed the notices of an open general strike that was sent to the BU administration and the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, through their office in Bethlehem.

 The administration called for a meeting to discuss the open strike attended also by the lawyers of each side on 28 July 2021, and the BU lawyer has affirmed that there will be no release of employees and no violation of their rights, however, no official documented response by the BU Administration was made to all the demands made by the union.

 When the open strike was declared on 18 August 2021, through an official letter to the BU Administration and the employees, Vice President for HR Affairs, Br. Peter Iorlano has sent an email to all employees challenging the strike illegal and threatens all employees that they should all report to work. The union consulted the lawyer, Mr. Shukri Al-Aboudi, and a response was sent to the administration confirming the legality of the strike since the needed 51% was achieved according to article 67 of the Palestinian Labor Law, and to affirm the rights of the workers and the general assembly of the union to strike according to article 66 of the same law the employees Union said.

According to the Union’s lawyer, the criteria of determining the number of employees of the facility, in this case, Bethlehem University, according to the official records presented to the Tax Department at the Ministry of Finance.

The number of employees who signed the striking letter is more than the needed number by law, and whoever claims otherwise, is to present prove of it, by presenting an official record of the taxed employees as presented to the Ministry of Finance and not the consultants or contractors of other service providers. Giving false numbers to the Ministry of Labor does not change the facts on the ground.

According to the article (1) of the Labor Law provisions “Each natural person who performs a work for the employer in return for a wage and shall be, during the performance of his/her work functions, under the employer’s management and supervision”, and this is what it means in the provisions of the article (67) of this law.

The BU Administration should have provided the official documents to support its claim of the illegality of the strike. It is not the union’s job to provide financial statements on behalf of the university, as this will be a conflict of interest, especially that the acting chair of the board of the union is an employee at the Finance Office of the University.

On 19 August 2021, there was a sit-in by the BU employees that included members of the General Assembly and the caretaker committee. The media was present and we have made our demands (attached to this statement) very clear to all.
11- Executive Vice President, Father Iyad Twal, suggested talking our way out of this crisis.

The union welcomed this invitation and a meeting was set to take place on Saturday 21 August 2021 with the presence of the union’s lawyer. However, the university’s lawyer Mr. Kareem Shehadeh contacted our lawyer on Friday and asked him to submit the demands of the union to him. Our lawyer presented the most important and critical demands, but they were rejected, and the meeting was postponed until further notice. On Saturday, Br. Peter Iorlano sent an email to all faculty and staff at BU that carries a clear threat to the caretaker committee, accusing the union of being unprofessional and acting on personal reactions.

The Office of Human Resources affirms that the number of employees in the facility is 380 and that the union did not commit to the provisions of article (67) of the Palestinian Labor Law to have the signature of more than 51% of the employees at the facility, and have asked the union to prove the legality of the strike. So, we hereby reiterate that it is not the job of the union to do so, and financial records and statements of the university are private and the Office of Human Resources can ask the Finance Office to provide them to know the exact official number of the employees at Bethlehem University.

The union of Employees at Bethlehem University shall not be held accountable for any error or miscommunication between the different offices of the university. Despite that, we will submit an official letter on Sunday 22 August 2021 to the Ministry of Labor asking the Ministry of Finance to take due measures to investigate the official records of Bethlehem University to find out the declared number of employees and to calculate the deductions on the salaries and to communicate with the Ministry of Labor on this matter.

There is a difference between an official employee and a subcontracted service provider or a temporary project staff or seasonal staff, and we call upon Bethlehem University, represented by its Executive Council and its President to resolve their issues without jeopardizing the salaries of the employees and without threatening them to deduct the days of the strike from their vacation balance or any other measure that would violate any of the rights of the employees at Bethlehem University.

The Union condemns the attitude of the BU administration which ignores the presence of the union and the way they address the employees, which does not reflect the image of Bethlehem University, of which we were and are still proud of being part.

The union still present good-will gestures and cooperation with the new students of the university, where the employees in charge of the orientation of the new students will be present to run the orientation program and will leave as soon as the orientation is over and will not do their usual daily work, since they are still on strike.

The employees Union said they will allow the employees to attend meetings, not related to the usual daily work, until 24 August 2021. All employees shall commit to the open strike which was duly declared and is one of the rights of the employees.

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