23 May 2014, from International Labour Organisation (ILO)

ILO: Employment outlook bleak for Palestinians, Gaza a “tinderbox”

The ILO’s annual report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories calls for resumption of negotiations and the lifting of restrictions to improve the situation of Palestinian workers and entrepreneurs.

GENEVA (ILO News) – The Palestinian growth rate has further declined over the last 12 months and unemployment has continued to rise in the West Bank and Gaza, says the annual report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), entitled “The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories.”

In Gaza the situation is dramatic due to the blockade which has paralyzed much of economic activity and led to an 80 per cent aid dependency rate.

The report submitted to the ILO’s International Labour Conference details the multiple restrictions on economic activity arising out of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It recalls that the US-driven peace talks were to deal with political, security and economic issues.

With no progress, the Palestinian economy remains constrained by a multitude of restrictions, and if they “are not removed, no sustainable improvement in the situation of Palestinian workers and entrepreneurs can be expected,” says the report.

Risk of exploitation

The ILO report sees a growing risk of exploitation of Palestinian workers by brokers and unscrupulous employers in Israel and the settlements. There has been a 19.6 per cent increase in the number of Palestinians working within the Israeli economic sphere.

As this clearly exceeds the number of work permits in 2013, a significant and growing number of Palestinians work outside the regulated permit system, with less protection against abusive employment practices.

Between 2012 and 2013, the total number of unemployed grew by 5.6 per cent, from 256,000 in 2012 to 270,000 in 2013 in the West Bank and Gaza.

Young jobseekers face an even more serious challenge as the youth unemployment rate reached almost 40 per cent in 2013. The unemployment rate for young men was 36.9 per cent, while for young women it was much higher at 64.7 per cent.

A “tinderbox” in Gaza

The authors of the report describe the situation in Gaza as a “tinderbox where a single spark can light a fire which will be extremely difficult to contain.”

It calls for urgent measures to allow for the movement of people and goods to bring relief to an area where “four-fifths of people have to count on humanitarian aid, economic activity has been paralysed, and achieving decent work is an increasingly distant dream.”

In Gaza, almost a third (32.5 per cent) of workers were unemployed in 2013. This rate rose to 51.8 per cent for young men and an extraordinary 86.3 per cent for young women aged 15-24. The report refers to the low participation rate of women in the Palestinian labour force and decision-making bodies as a “persistent concern.”

The report notes the pessimism arising out of the lack of results in the latest phase of the peace process.

Instead of having achieved a breakthrough, this process now is threatened by a breakdown and a further deterioration of the situation for the Palestinian workers and the economy. Over the months during which the talks have taken place, Israeli settlement activity has intensified, settler-related violence has increased, and promises of economic (progress) have been frustrated.

Growth hampered

Under the current circumstances, the report says, growth will not be forthcoming because of the Palestinian population’s lack of access to resources, including land and water. Major obstacles to the free movement of goods and services and private sector investment compound this situation.

“If the occupation not only continues but actually expands through the settlements…the prospects for a sovereign Palestinian state with full control over economic activity, employment and social policy and the most fundamental rights of citizens will be seriously jeopardized,” the report concludes.

In his preface to the report, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says that,

“the ILO’s commitment to the building of a sovereign Palestinian state with an effective social dimension remains as strong as ever.” – Guy Ryder

The findings of the report are based on a mission that involved in-depth discussions and a number of field visits to the occupied Arab territories and Israel in March this year. Since 1980, the Director-General has been mandated to present an annual report to the International Labour Conference on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan.

Source: International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Download report: The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories [pdf, 860KB, 60 pages]

Download report in other languages from ILO website >>>