Roundtable session: "Palestinian workers amidst the Israeli aggression: Challenges and Prospects"

Ramallah| The session aimed to discuss the problems, consequences, and impacts facing Palestinian workers due to the Israeli occupation’s aggression against Palestine, as well as the responsibilities of relevant parties in providing social protection and seeking practical, applicable solutions to address the repercussions on the Palestinian workforce. According to a report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, unemployment rates increased to 75% in the fourth quarter of 2023, compared to 46% in the third quarter. This indicates a loss of at least 200,000 jobs during the first three months of the aggression, raising the number of unemployed people to 317,000 in the fourth quarter of 2023. The workforce in the Gaza Strip has nearly ceased working due to the displacement conditions resulting from the aggression. This has turned the entire area into a camp where residents are suffering from poverty and a lack of basic needs.

Many representatives and union and social activists took part in this session, including those from the Department of Popular Organizations in the Palestine Liberation Organization, the General Administration of Labor Relations in the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, the Progressive Workers’ Bloc, the Workers’ Unity Bloc, the Fatah Movement’s Labor Commission, the Palestinian Labor Struggle Union, and the Workers’ Solidarity Bloc.

Dr. Wasel Abu Yousef, Head of the Department of Popular Organizations in the Palestine Liberation Organization discussed the reality of Palestinian workers in light of the ongoing aggression, which has persisted for over 265 days. He emphasized the importance of solidarity among all societal components to mitigate the economic and social repercussions of the war on Palestinian society. Dr. Abu Youssef stressed the necessity of integrating national efforts at both official and popular levels to counter the occupation’s attempts to turn Palestine into an environment that drives citizens away. He called for a reconsideration of many economic and social policies to achieve a gradual separation from the Israeli economy, thus strengthening the resilience of the Palestinian people. This independence would allow the Palestinian economy and labor market to break free from their coercive attachment to the Israeli economy, particularly regarding occupied Palestine being viewed as a market for the occupier’s products and its impact on Palestinian labor.

The attendees discussed the current state of social protection for Palestinian workers from economic and social perspectives, the role of relevant parties in safeguarding these workers amid Israeli aggression, and the potential for transforming the Palestinian economy into an industrial one. They emphasized the necessity of building industrial facilities to absorb the Palestinian workforce, thereby integrating this labor force into the Palestinian services sector. This would reduce the workforce's dependency on political fluctuations and the occupier’s satisfaction with political performance, ensuring that labor and workers are not used as a political pressure card by Israel.

The attendees also discussed the lack of political will among the relevant parties to address the labor crises, which have led to increased restrictions imposed by the occupation on the Palestinian economy. Due to years of dependence on the Israeli economy, the capacity to absorb Palestinian labor in local markets has weakened, resulting in an increasing reliance on Israeli labor markets.

Given the expectations of continued aggression and the presence of an extremist right-wing occupation government, it is unlikely that Palestinian workers will return to work in Israel or that employment will normalize in the West Bank, due to the risks and harassment they face during their movement and work between Palestinian governorates.

Therefore, the attendees stressed the necessity of activating the Social Security System to provide protection for all components of Palestinian society. They emphasized the importance of launching a social dialogue involving all elements of the labor movement to unify efforts and improve the reality of workers. This includes approving serious government policies that favor workers and serve the Palestinian labor market, and thoroughly reviewing the minimum wage to ensure a decent life for workers and their families.

The attendees also highlighted the importance of assigning the Palestinian private sector its social responsibility towards society, forming a crisis cell between state institutions, the private sector, unions, and civil society to develop applicable strategies to protect Palestinian workers from the risks of working in the Israeli labor market. They proposed imposing a progressive tax on major companies based on segments, encouraging cooperative work, and promoting a subsistence economy, so the national economy becomes shock-resistant and supports the idea of economic disengagement from the occupation.

In general, the attendees confirmed that given the absence of any official or unofficial body working to support Palestinian workers and the lack of a national plan to confront economic challenges, national rescue and relief policies should be developed with the participation of all governmental and non-governmental organizations and the private sector. These policies should aim to provide an emergency social protection network, lay the foundations for a resilient and less dependent economy, and implement employment programs to create alternative and urgent local job opportunities across various economic sectors.