Written by: Nehad Abo Ghosh
Labor and professional unions in Palestine suffer from legal and structural imbalances that limit their ability to represent their members and defend their interests. These imbalances are more evident in labor unions than in professional ones, the most prominent of which are the engineer and doctor unions, as the conditions for membership of the latter are more stringent than those of labor unions.
Unions suffer from the absence of the law regulating their work, which affects their legal standing and weakens their power in collective negotiation on behalf of their members. The reason for this imbalance is due to the complex legal environment based on a mixture of Jordanian (in the West Bank) and Egyptian (in Gaza) laws with Israeli military laws and regulations. There are even some laws that are inherited from the British Mandate and the Ottoman era, in addition to the Palestinian legislation, most of which were approved during the era of the first Legislative Council (1996-2006) and a few of what were approved by the second Legislative Council, which was elected in 2006, and then was later disrupted due to the division.
The absence of laws regulating the work of labor unions is due to the issuance of the Palestinian Labor Law of 2000, which canceled the previous Jordanian and Egyptian laws. This recognition contained a legislative loophole, as the Jordanian law included rules that regulate the work of unions, which were abolished as soon as the new law was approved. While in Gaza, the Egyptian labor law did not include the rules that regulate the work of unions. In order to address this gap, more than one draft was submitted to regulate union work; however, was not implemented.
A fundamental dissonance also arose between the General Federation of Palestine Workers and the General Federation of Palestine Trade Unions, which is supposed to be a branch of the former, but in practice, the branch has become larger than the original. The crisis of union representation for Palestine workers is emerging in international forums, where competition intensifies between the two frameworks. The General Federation undertakes tasks in some frameworks, while the Federation of Trade Unions undertakes the task in other international frameworks.
All unions in the world originated and developed to defend the interests of their members, while also playing an important role in public life, because their members are citizens who share a concern for public issues, such as democracy, public freedoms and development. In Palestine, the issue of national independence and liberation from occupation emerges as a core issue for all social groups and their social organizations. But the imbalance emerges when political concerns dominate unionism, and this phenomenon turns unions into mere political fronts for the parties they lead, thus, weakening their role in representing their members. If this was justified during the emergence of the Palestinian national identity after the Nakba, and the involvement of social organizations in supporting the Liberation Organization, then the continued control of political concern over union demands no longer had any justification and became a reason to alienate its members and distance it from its activities.
Regarding the most prominent problem in the work of professional and labor unions, it is the weakness and absence of democratic practice, whether due to the final absence of elections as in Gaza, or the reliance of these elections on agreements and superior deals between organizations according to the principle of quotas, or the irregularity of elections. This results in the absence of renewal in the union bodies, the weakness of oversight and accountability and the marginalisation of intermediary bodies’ roles, such as the Central Council between the executive body and its base.
It is not difficult to identify and solve the imbalance in the unions’ conditions, which are: 1) adopting legislation regulating their work, 2) obligating them to hold elections periodically and subjecting them to the oversight of their base and 3) lobbying for unions to be “unions” and not just extensions of political organisations.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.