In view of the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected all aspects of citizens’ lives, we cannot ignore that workers are the group most affected by the pandemic. In this context, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) presented indicators on the status of the labor market and establishments in Palestine, indicating that the Covid-19 pandemic affected more than 453 thousand Palestinian workers. More than 45% of the workers and an estimated 1,850,000 family members, including children, the elderly and dependent spouses, have been left without any source of income that would enable them to meet their basic needs in terms of food and means of protection, in particular women’s needs for sanitary and hygiene products.
As a result of the state of emergency declared by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Cabinet’s decision to suspend work in many economic activities, only 26.2% of the total number of establishments in the private sector are still operating (i.e. 37,336 establishments out of 142,400). These include hospitals, care activities and residential nursing care activities, and social work activities for the elderly and persons with disabilities, which are still operating fully. In addition, some establishments are operating at 25% - 40% of their capacities and workforce, including: manufacture of food, manufacture of chemicals, manufacture of soap and cleaning products, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, electric power generation, manufacture and distribution of gas, steam and air conditioning supply, water sector, waste collection, freight transport by road, journalism, radio & TV sector, wired and wireless telecommunication activities, some sales activities, and other monetary intermediation. These establishments are currently employing 105,345 workers, out of 424,904 wage workers in the private sector. According to the PCBS, there are several categories of employed individuals, who will be directly affected by the situation in Palestine, including 320,000 workers employed in the informal sector, and 133,300 Palestinian workers working in Israel and Israeli settlements.
Palestinian workers in the Israeli labor market has been exposed to a particularly harsh and degrading situation, which violates most basic and fundamental human rights and freedoms. The Israeli Occupying Power took several measures against Palestinian workers. First, it deprived Palestinian workers infected by Covid-19 from receiving any health care at Israeli facilities.
In several cases, Israeli soldiers dumped workers at border crossings/checkpoints between Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas, which remain under Israeli military occupation. Second, the Israeli authorities represented by the Israeli Ministry of Labor and the Histadrut – Israel’s National Trade Union Center - did not guarantee the payment of wages to Palestinian workers for the period before the state of emergency was declared in Israel due to the spread of the pandemic. It is worth noting that most of cases of Covid-19 in occupied Palestine are among workers, who had been working in Israeli establishments and persons in contact with them. Third, hundreds of workers, who paid amounts ranging from 700 to a 1000 USD for work permits sold by work brokers associated to the Israeli security services, were unable to proceed with their jobs for the rest of the month because of the pandemic and due to their dismissal by Israeli employers. In addition, the Israeli occupation authorities required that workers, who want to work in Israel or to verify the validity of their work permits, download an application called "Al Munaseq – the coordinator" on their mobile phones. Once this application is installed, Israeli security services can access all the information stored on workers' phones, including calls, pictures and files, as well as track workers’ locations. This is an explicit abuse of privacy and further exploitation of the difficult situation lived by Palestinian workers in order to obtain a livelihood. Fourth, the issuance of a decision prohibiting Palestinian workers from using the same transportation means used by Israelis constitutes blatant racial discrimination. This decision poses a threat to the security and lives of Palestinian workers, as it encourages Israeli extremists to attack any users of public transportation, who they suspect may be Palestinian.
Palestinian workers employed by the Palestinian private sector do not fare better in terms of loss of their source of income, and this despite the signature of an agreement between social partners (Labor Ministry, workers and employers’ organizations) that aimed to guarantee payment of 50% of their wages to those unable to work due to the state of emergency and closure of establishments, and the remaining 50%, when they return to their work. Among categories of private sector workers most affected by the situation, the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center received appeals from female kindergarten workers requesting the provision of basic food, safety and prevention supplies, as these workers did not receive any payment of their salaries, and employers did not commit to the tripartite agreement.
As the period of confinement increases and paralysis of most economic activities continues, more workers find themselves unable to cope with the needs of their families. In this context, Shaher Saad, the General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, announced that the federation was ready to donate 5 million shekels to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to a 1.5 million shekels to provide food baskets for workers.