Crossing through a checkpoint on your daily commute to work: life as a Palestinian worker in Israel
Fifty years of occupation is a tale of both enforced poverty and oppression.
For workers, it’s akin to modern slavery.
With the high rates of unemployment in the West Bank, each day 150,000 workers, desperate to support their families, enter Israel for work. It is a journey of danger, exploitation and humiliation that, with political will, could be fixed.
To secure a job, the first requirement is to obtain a permit. Private brokers charge fees that are illegal under ILO standards to provide both permits and to offer work.
Up to US$1 billion a year is lost to workers and their families and to the economy of Palestine.
For workers, there is no guarantee this work will be regular or with the same employer, as the names of employers are erased from the permits and there is no contract of employment. Consequently, there can be no effective rule of law for human and labour rights violations.
Of the 150,000 Palestinian workers in Israel, around 75,000 workers are considered legal under these conditions while some 40,000 are the victims of trafficking with no legal records and some 35,000 are working in the illegal settlements.
Getting up long before dawn to go to the border crossings that are narrow, dangerous and can cause injury or even loss of life is a daily reality. There are no electronic scanners, and workers can be subjected to the humiliation of full body searches. These obstacles can cost up to four hours of working time.
Then, various deductions that are not recorded can cost up to 19% of a worker’s wages, and too often wages are underpaid with cash payments while wage records are falsified.
And then workers might reach their homes by 7:00 p.m. to get up and go through it all again just a few hours later.
These conditions exist in a modern developed country!
The Palestinian Labour Minister and the unions agree on the solutions, and they are not difficult.
- Expand the checkpoints with electronic security passes and procedures.
- Allow the Palestinian Authority to issue permits for free.
- Ensure contracts of employment with the names of the employer(s).
- Ensure that wages are paid electronically.
- Regularise the situation for workers in illegal employment situations.
- Prosecute brokers selling permits on the black market.
- Prosecute employers forging pay slips.
- Disclose the financial deductions from workers going back to 1970.
- Compensate injuries and impose occupational health and safety regulations.
- Transfer pension benefits to the Palestinian Social Security Corporation.
- Expand the number of labour inspectorates.
It’s simply a matter of political will.
The dignity of decent work is not possible in these conditions. Israel needs workers, and Palestinian workers need jobs. The cuts of US$200 million in aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Trump Administration will push lives and livelihoods further over the edge.
We need a renewed sense of urgency for workers’ rights. The depravity of these conditions must be cleaned up immediately.
It’s time to end modern slavery conditions for Palestinian workers in Israel.
Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. She visited Palestinian workers crossing into the West Bank 27–29th August 2018.