In a shocking report published earlier this month about children employed in Gaza tunnels, Anwar, a 15-year-old boy from Gaza, relates how he has been made redundant following the destruction by the Israeli Air Force of the tunnel in which he worked.
The work day begins in the early hours of the morning, when workers are hurrying to the checkpoints, today called passages, in order to grab a good spot.
In the wake of complaints received by Kav Laoved via Mahsom Watch, activists documented the Qalqilya checkpoint (its new name is Eyal Passage) on one long morning this past May.
Already at 3:00am a line of approximately 1,000 workers had formed in front of the checkpoint. Prior to its opening, often up to 10,000 workers are waiting to go through. The workers told representatives of Kav Laoved about repeated injuries during passage through the revolving metal door. A few days before the visit, the workers related, a worker was crushed in line and died.
No less serious are the systematic violations of safety regulations at work. In orchards in the Jordan Valley, workers are employed for long hours in picking dates while perched dangerously on tree branches and not on a work surface, as mandated by law. Women and children work without appropriate protection against the chemical sprays. Children are particularly susceptible to these chemical poisons, some of which are carcinogenic and liable to adversely affect their fertility.
Work accidents are reports to the National Insurance Institute in only the rarest of cases. And if there are daring workers who demand to be paid minimum wage, or to have their legally recognized rights implemented, they are threatened with being fired and losing their work permits.
Exactly one year ago, in July 2008, a new agreement was signed, quietly and with no fanfare, between the Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank, in the hope of overcoming the difficulties in implementing the previously signed agreements between the two bodies.
It is important to note that, according to the Oslo agreements signed in 1993, Palestinian workers in Israel pay a percentage of their salaries to the Histadrut, even though they are not members. According to the agreement, the Histadrut will transfer half of these payments to the Federation.
Will Palestinian workers enjoy the fruits of their generous financial investment in organizations obligated to protect their rights? Judging by past experience, I would say no. However, why not leave a small window of opportunities open for surprises? Histradut Chair Ofer Eini, for example. After he proved to us all that he is capable of transforming a right wing capitalist government into a believer in workers’ rights, we can expect that he will now also promote the rights of the most rejected and silenced workers in the area – the Palestinian workers.