24 May 2019, International Labour Organisation

The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories

Summary of Annual Report to the 2019 International Labour Conference

Report coverpage - The situation for workers of the occupied Arab territories

What is clear is that the misery of one people cannot lead to prosperity of the other.

– Guy Ryder, Director General, ILO


Oslo losing its significance

9. For all intents and purposes, the Oslo Accords – which have oriented Palestinian–Israeli relations in pursuit of a two-state solution since the 1990s – are now losing their capacity to serve as reference points. For many years already, action on the ground has been out of tune with the agreements. Facts have been created, ranging from settlements to shifting borders and restrictions on movement and trade, which openly contradict the decisions of Oslo and the Paris Protocols. …

11. The economy and, with it, labour market outcomes and livelihoods of Palestinian workers continue to be severely impacted by the ongoing occupation, its accompanying myriad restrictions and the overall lack of future perspective. …

12. At this point in time, there is no longer any meaningful peace process. …

14. The void left by the absence of dialogue and negotiations between both sides has meanwhile been filled by violence. …

The encroaching occupation

15. All settlement on occupied territory is illegal under international law. United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all
settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” (UN, 2016). Instead, since its adoption in 2016, thousands of new housing units on the occupied lands have been built, advanced or are being planned. Many of them are in locations deep in the West Bank. Settlement expansion continued throughout 2018 at an accelerated pace. There are now more than 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, amounting to 23 settlers per 100 Palestinians in the West Bank and 70 settlers per 100 Palestinians in East Jerusalem (PCBS, 2019a).

16. In addition to the physical constraints and controls imposed by the occupation, there
is a fiscal dimension weighing on the Palestinian economy and its workers. Some
two thirds of Palestinian Authority revenue is effectively controlled by Israel. …

A labour market unable to deliver

… 18. The labour market mirrored these developments across almost all key indicators. Labour force participation has declined further and unemployment has increased. Gaza has witnessed a dramatic increase in joblessness. If current trends continue, every second economically active person in Gaza is soon likely to be unemployed. Already, close to two thirds of women and youth in the labour market are without a job. Skilled women in particular are affected. Nowhere else in the world does the labour market situation of women appear so dire.

19. With shrinking public resources, the jobs of the future will have to be generated by
the private sector both in Gaza and in the West Bank. However, the potential of the private sector remains low within the current constraints of the overall investment climate and restrictions imposed by the occupation. The overwhelming majority of private sector firms are both very small, with fewer than five employees, and lack dynamism. Evidence suggests that there is a significant degree of non-compliance with labour legislation. More than half of wage employees in the private sector are hired without a contract and close to one third receive less than the minimum wage.

Unresolved issues for Palestinians seeking work in Israel and the settlements

20. Against the backdrop of a deteriorating economy in the West Bank and continued labour shortages in Israel, the number of Palestinians from the West Bank crossing over to Israel for work, most of them on a daily basis, has further increased. Some 127,000 Palestinians now work in Israel and the settlements, two thirds of them in the country’s booming construction sector. There has been a fourfold increase in Palestinian employment in this sector over the last ten years.

21. Regrettably, however, the conditions and procedures associated with this type of
employment do not appear to have improved. …

Gaza collapsing

25. While a growing number of Palestinians from the West Bank seek to escape unemployment and low wages by taking a job in Israel or moving further abroad, the people of Gaza have no such choice. However, they need it more than anyone else.

26. Gaza is now close to collapse. It has been blocked by land, air and sea for a dozen years. During this time, there have been three wars with Israel. Gaza’s productive base has been eroded, and trade with the outside world is next to impossible. All sectors have suffered, but manufacturing and agriculture have been hit in particular. …

28. In the wake of the blockade and the ongoing conflicts, the labour market has been decimated. There are hardly any job opportunities left. …

29. Livelihoods largely depend on the resources available to the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Palestinian
Authority wages, and remittances. Aid dependency is heavy, with four out of five Gazans
receiving some kind of aid in 2017 (World Bank, 2018a). …

Governance and institutions: Shattered trust and lost hopes

30. On 12 December 2018, the Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council and requested the President to call elections within six months. At the time of the mission, a new Prime Minister was appointed and a cabinet was being formed. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2006. In the meantime, democratic deficits have been accumulated and the space for civil society has shrunk.

31. The future of the social insurance scheme is currently uncertain. …

Lost destinations on the map

34. It is difficult to see where all this will lead for the workers of the occupied territories. Labour markets subjected to constraints and blockades are struggling and failing. For the nearly 1 million working women and men and their families in the West Bank and Gaza, what tomorrow will bring is increasingly uncertain. Jobs are few, workers’ protection is sporadic, and labour governance is weak. Women and young people are bearing the brunt of the hardships. Meanwhile, the occupation has tightened its grip. When hope fades, a few turn to violence.

35. So far, none of the facts created on the ground are irreversible. The Oslo Accords are
still valid and a two-state solution has not lost its potential to serve as a guiding compass
for a real peace process. The foundations are still there and, given political will, they can
still be built upon. It is late in the day, but not yet too late.

This is a summary of the Annual Report – ‘The situation for workers for the occupied Arab territories’ – to the 2019 International Labour Conference, held 10-21 June 2019.


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