Labour in Palestine

Data current at December 2016.

Palestinian Labour Force Statistics* OPT^ West Bank Gaza Strip cf. Israel cf. Australia
Labour force participation rate (15+ yrs) 46% 46% 46% 64% 65%
– (Participation rate) Males 72% 73% 69%
– (Participation rate) Females 19% 17% 22%
Unemployment rate 26% 17% 41% 4% 6%
– (Unemployment) Males 23% 14% 33%
– (Unemployment) Females 39% 28% 64%
Youth unemployment (15-29yrs) 38% 27% 56%
– (Youth unempl.) Males 31% 21% 48%
– (Youth unempl.) Females 64% 51% 78%
Place of work – Palestinian Territory 87% 82% 100%
Place of work – Israel 11% 15% 0
Place of work – Israeli settlements 2% 3% 0
Trade union membership (% of workers) 18% 12% 33%  23% (at 2012) 17% (at 2013)
Workers covered by collective agreement  26%  26%  24% 59% (at 2016)
Child Labour (aged 10-17yrs) 3.9% 5.3% 1.9%

* Data from Labour Force Survey, 4th Quarter 2016 (Oct-Dec 2016), Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics,
^ Occupied Palestinian Territory (West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem)
Israel data from Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, OECD

Australia data from Australian Central Bureau of Statistics

Key facts

  • The Palestinian labour force (working age population of 15+ years) participation rate was 46 percent in the October-December 2016 quarter – very low by international standards; compared to 64 percent in Israel and 65 percent in Australia.
  • Women’s labour force participation remains low at around 19 percent, despite the high levels of female enrolment in schools and universities which generally correlates positively with women’s later workforce participation.
  • Palestinian unemployment is around 26 percent (October-December 2016 quarter); compared to an average 4 percent unemployment rate in Israel and 6 percent unemployment rate in Australia.
  • Youth unemployment (aged 15-29) is extraordinarily high at 38 percent, with young women’s unemployment reaching 64 percent.
  • The Palestinian public sector employs 22 percent of the labour force, while the private sector employs 63 percent.
  • Some 13 percent of Palestinian labourers work inside Israel or in the illegal Israeli settlements, largely in the construction industry, attracted by the significantly higher wages.
  • Child labour: Some 4 percent of children (aged 10-17 years) work, mostly as unpaid family members in agriculture.
  • A complex Israeli permit system controls Palestinian access to the Israeli labour market. Israeli-issued work permits have more than halved from around 146,000 permits in year 2000 to 67,000 at 4th quarter 2016 (October-December 2016).

The Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip means…

  • Israeli-issued work permits ceased in April 2006 for Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip to access the Israeli labour market.
  • More than one third of Palestinian workers in Gaza are unemployed – one of the highest unemployment rates (41%) in the world. Youth (aged 15-29yrs) unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip are extraordinarily high at 56%.
  • Only 22 percent of Palestinian women are in the Gaza labour force, largely in the health and education sectors.
  • Formerly large employers, the decimation of local manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries due to the blockade and conflict-damage/-destruction contributes to growing unemployment and economic despair.
  • The “tunnels industry” between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, used to transfer goods restricted by the Israeli blockade since June 2007, has seen over 230 Palestinian workers killed and over 400 injured.


“I arrived at the gate this morning in order to go to work. However, when I pressed the intercom there was no answer. I kept pressing the intercom for an hour…I then called Qalandiya [checkpoint] and was told that the gate was not working and that the [Israeli] Border Police would come to open it. They never arrived. I get paid by the day so if I do not go to work then I do not get paid. While my boss is understanding of our situation, I don’t know how long I can hold this job if I cannot guarantee to travel to work every day.”

– testimony of Nour, describing how he must get through the Separation Wall each day to travel to work, Special Focus Report: Barrier Update, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, p.21, July 2011.

Right to Work

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, ARTICLE 23:
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, ARTICLE 6:
“The States Parties to the present Convenant recognise the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

Research Resources

ILO, International Labour Conference, Annual Report: Situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories – see ILC sessions by year >

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights – see Palestine annual survey; Israel annual survey

Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Surveys – access here >

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Germany), Palestinian Trade Unions: An overview, Dec. 2006 [pdf]

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – access here >


See also AUSPalestine Resources page for further information.

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