In 2017, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip entered its fifth decade. For 50 years, Palestinian men, women and children in the occupied territories have been subject to constant and systematic violations of their political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. The year 2017 witnessed a further deterioration of the situation, with an acceleration of the colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while the Gaza Strip remained under blockade. Israel’s control over the economy of the occupied territories continues to be a major obstacle to the achievement of decent work by Palestinians, and in particular the right to work itself. In 1968, the unemployment rate among the labor force in the occupied territories was 15%. It then decreased during the 1970s and 80s, and witnessed a sharp increase after the signature of the Oslo agreements and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Subject to fluctuations depending on the political context and the scope of Israeli collective punishment measures against the Palestinian population, the unemployment rate reached 27.4% in 2017. In the Gaza Strip, 43.8% of the workers were unemployed.
In addition, the right to just and favorable working conditions continued to be violated extensively in both Palestinian and Israeli labor markets, depriving workers of fair wages and end of service indemnities, leaves, overtime pay, and other rights, while gender disparities increased and various forms of discrimination affected workers. As for freedom of association and the right to organize, the situation remained most preoccupying in the Gaza Strip, where the issue of dual legislation on union organizing has not been resolved, as well as for public service employees in the West Bank, whose rights were subject to further restrictions.
Since 1993, the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center has worked to promote democracy, social justice and equality in the West Bank & Gaza Strip, working to advance the rights of female and male workers and their capacity to organize and mobilize in an extremely difficult context. While the achievement of Palestinian rights to self-determination, justice and equality faces ever greater challenges, particularly in light of the United States decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem, DWRC’s work contributes in reinforcing the Palestinian people’s steadfastness on their land by supporting workers in the Palestinian and Israeli labor markets in claiming their right to just and favorable working conditions, fighting discriminations, and exercising their right to freedom of association and organize, as well as other related fundamental rights.
In 2017, DWRC continued to work towards achieving its four strategic objectives for 2016-2019, namely strengthening the representative and bargaining power of trade unions, empowering Palestinian women at the economic, political and social levels, establishing a social protection system, and strengthening its organizational capacity. In order to strengthen the effectiveness of its interventions and their outreach, DWRC pursued its partnerships with local and international organizations. We continued working in close cooperation with the Labor Ministry to strengthen law implementation and spread awareness of rights. We also maintained an active participation in two quadripartite consultative committees presided by the Minister of Labor (the National Committee for Women’s Employment, and the National Committee for Occupational Safety & Health) and the Child Protection Network. With the Ministry and other partners of the National Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, we contributed in the organization of a national conference on occupational safety and health. With the Child Protection Network, we developed our outreach to children in schools. We further developed our cooperation with trade unions, local CBOs and NGOs, and youth initiatives. In addition to our partnerships with the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD), the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), and the Italian non-governmental organization COSPE for the implementation of projects, we worked with 14 CBOs and trade unions in West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, through sub-granting mechanisms to spread awareness of labor and social rights, and develop skills and capacities for organizing and defending rights.
Despite the deteriorating overall context, DWRC was able to support Palestinian female & male workers, youth and trade unions in defending & claiming rights, and raising their voices to Palestinian decision-makers. DWRC also worked with duty-bearers to improve monitoring of law implementation, in particular with labor inspectors in West Bank and Gaza Strip.
With our partners, we were able to benefit 10,045 workers & citizens, 53.7% of them women through our activities and services. Among them, 702 activists and unionists and 39 labor inspectors benefited from skills development through training. An additional 269,844 workers & citizens were reached through awareness message spread on social media.
Notably, the number of women, who benefited from awareness, skills development, organizing and advocacy increased as compared to 2016, and this despite a lower participation in activities related to occupational safety and health rights as we continued to give priority to sectors with the highest risks at work (such as construction, sanitary work). A wider circle of female and male workers and youth were affected by our work, including about 4000 beneficiaries of collective consultations and implementation of law in workplaces, as well as members of youth initiatives represented in the national youth council in Gaza and youth councils in West Bank (about 5000 youth) and members of partner unions (about 60,000 male and female workers).
In the area of socio-economic empowerment and reducing the effects of unemployment and poverty, we pursued our interventions at the policy level in addition to supporting those most affected by the lack of job opportunities in mobilizing and raising their voices to decision-makers, namely unemployed graduates in the Gaza Strip. Thus, DWRC Gaza branch coordinator continued to represent PNGO in the board of directors of the Fund for Employment and Social Protection, as well as the Employment Council in Gaza. Through training and counseling, we supported female and male youth activists in Gaza in developing their advocacy campaign for their right to work, in particular those involved in the initiative “I am a graduate, I must work”.
In addition to extensive local networking, DWRC welcomed several foreign delegations included youth and union delegations, from the UK, Belgium, Poland, and Germany, and briefed them on the political and socio-economic situation, with a focus on labor, social and trade union rights. We also strengthened our interaction with the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Network (ESCR-Net). We participated in the network’s meetings, joined a new working group “Women and ESCR working group”, and participated in discussions of a new proposed field of interest of the network concerning conflict/occupation & ESCR. At the regional level, we participated in a conference on youth employment and policies, organized by Solidar and its partners.