May 29, 2020

Fact Sheet – Workers in the Light of the COVID-19 Crisis

Fact Sheet – Workers in the Light of the COVID-19 Crisis

Introduction

In the light of the crises presented mainly in the Israeli blockade and political division which have been lasting for more than 13 years, the economic structure has weakened and that led to the halt of thousands of establishments in addition to keeping tens of thousands of workers out of work.

Since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the Israeli occupation authorities imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, reaching all sectors, and closed commercial crossings in addition to preventing nearly 100,000 Palestinian workers from going to their work within the occupied Palestinian territories. This costed the Palestinian national income to lose an important source over the years of the imposed Israeli siege, not to mention the consequences of the internal Palestinian division in 2007, which forced the Gaza Strip to witness an unprecedented economic meltdown that cast a shadow on the private sector and its workers. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip during 2019 reached (45%)[1] with 215,000 unemployed citizens.

The same year also witnessed an increase in private-sector workers whose monthly wages are less than the minimum wage, reaching 80%, where the average monthly wages were only (674)[2] shekels or less than half the minimum wage.

With the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus in the world, a state of complete paralysis hit the Gaza Strip following the precautionary preventive measures aiming to confront the virus.

Many facilities, centers, and workplaces were disrupted, which negatively impacted different society classes especially workers with daily incomes. The Ministry of Labor registered the affected workers’ names through the Ministry’s Facebook page, as the number of registered workers reached 130,000[3] due to the followed procedures and the closing of hundreds of work sites. These workers became the most affected category due to their layoffs, the reduction of their number of hours or days of work, or the reduction of their wages.

The Most Affected Sectors

The daily income earners are considered the ones to take the hardest blow by the current crisis, as their work stopped without having any rights or social guarantees, or even regular wages, as other workers in the government sector. The transportation sector, restaurant and hotel sector, and the private education sector were also affected especially kindergartens, nurseries, private schools, owners of small businesses, civil society institutions, merchants, workers, and peddlers.

  • The Private Education Sector, Kindergarten Workers and Nurseries

This sector includes thousands of workers who suffered horrid economic situation even before the announcement of the ongoing emergency. The troubles which surrounded such institutions were represented mainly in the low wages and the failure to implement the minimum wage law.

This sector includes many kindergartens, some of which are licensed by the Ministry of Education, and some are not, but this makes no difference terms of economic reality in light of the poor accountability systems for employers that were excluded from the social and economic system. This led them to forsake their families’ responsibilities and obligations.

The Corona pandemic negatively affected their economic and social reality and the families of such workers, as they do not have any other income sources, and there is no party that adopts their cause.

According to the of the Ministry of Education 2019 statistics in the Gaza Strip, the number of licensed kindergartens reached 696 kindergartens, and that the number of employees in them reached 2815 in addition to 61 private schools where their number of workers reached 1723. The female workers registered within the Ministry of Labor reached a total of 2800. This sheds light on the thousands of workers working in unlicensed kindergartens and are not registered within the Ministry of Labor, which leads that the percentage of unlicensed kindergartens is approximately 60% of the total kindergartens working in the Gaza Strip.

  • Tourist and Hotel Facilities in The Gaza Strip:

Tourism and hotel establishments were reached by emergency’s decision to completely close until further notice. The used-to-be-crowded places lost vast amounts of money and had to layoff dozens of employees.

The number of registered workers in Restaurant and Tourist places in the Gaza Strip reached about 5000 workers working in 265 places out of 500 places. There are about 235 establishments whose owners have not registered their employees, due to the workers’ fear of losing aid or because these establishments are not already registered with the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Tourism.

  • Workers with Temporary Work Contracts in NGOs And Owners of Small and Individual Projects Within Externally Funded Projects or Loans

The declaration of the current state of emergency led to the suspension of many operational projects that benefit thousands of graduates / unemployed. Other projects that were implemented by NGOs also stopped, which negatively affected hundreds of employees and their salaries.

  • Workers in The Informal Sector

The Coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted public traffic in streets, which affected the commercial and transportation ones. Taxi drivers, street vendors, peddlers or popular markets were unable to provide any income due to the closure of schools, universities, and markets in the absence of other work alternatives. Some drivers reported that they handed the cars over to their owners and sat in their homes because of their inability to secure any income or fulfill their obligations towards others.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of workers as informal ones in Palestine – who work in the informal sector in addition to wage employees who do not obtain any of the rights in the labor market, whether end-of-service gratuity/retirement, paid annual leave, or sick leave –  have reached about 57% of the total workers in Palestine, 61% of whom are males and 38% are females with 59% in the West Bank and 51% in the Gaza Strip.[4]

  • Interventions by Governmental and Non-Governmental Bodies:

The Ministry of Labor has posted a link that has been announced via social media platforms and all news pages to register the workers who have been affected by measures of countering the outbreak of the Coronavirus and have lost their job opportunities in order to be compensated by the government.

Compensating workers and assisting them requires effective government plans to take place, and despite the fact that an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Labor in the West Bank and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in April 2020 to compensate the affected workers, the details have not been announced yet.

The appropriateness of the criteria to benefit from aid:

The ministries of Labor and Social Development set the preference criteria for reaching the most affected workers based on the importance of the affected sector, the size of the damage, the social status, and the number of dependent as these standards were considered unfair to the already damaged groups in addition to forcing workers to register with a computerized program for their need for urgent assistance.

Others did not register because they do not meet the required standards since they are unmarried, but they support their families and therefore they see that they are affected like the rest of the workers. The daily income earners and workers in the humble shops are negatively affected as well, not to mention the owners of exported crops like strawberries, flowers, and some vegetables, who stopped doing so and are also absent from the compensation lists.

They also believe that every ministry should define and set standards pertaining to its field of work and its responsibilities towards others quickly.

The crisis, they said, is general for all productive sectors, and the mentioned government bodies did not adhere to the principles of transparency and did not disclose the amount of aid that reached them as well as who are the categories that will benefit from such assistance, including and how to choose these beneficiaries, and the degree of coordination between relief and private institutions and relevant government agencies is not balanced with the lack of a common database that contributes to the compensation process in a real and immediate manner.

Recommendations:

  • Developing a database for workers in the private sector in all segments and different sectors of the Ministry of Labor to include workers in non-registered facilities as well as daily income earners and identify the affected groups to classify them according to the size of the damage.
  • Allocating a portion of the national fund “Waqfet Ezz” that was established in the West Bank by the private sector in cooperation with the government to bridge the imbalance caused by the sudden crisis and compensate the workers according to the size of the damage resulting from the loss of his work.
  • Working to develop compensation plans and protect the sources of income for vulnerable groups in cooperation with employers and ensure that workers return to work after the crisis ends.
  • Putting government budget programs to achieve social justice for all groups, while working to activate temporary policies to confront the crisis that include stopping taxes and customs and reducing prices of basic commodities with government contributions to support these commodities.
  • Working to promote positive social values among citizens, such as solidarity, mutual support, cooperation and compassion, for everyone must share a living to maintain social balance and continue life.
  • Promoting transparency and disseminating information regarding the aid that reached the Gaza Strip and how it will be spent.
  • Reaching all affected groups with aid and benefits without exception, especially those who receive aid from social affairs, for they are experiencing the worst of situations and they must be assisted to complete their monthly needs.
  • Developing safety procedures and issuing clear instructions from the Ministry of Labor to impose safety procedures in the workplace, which allows a greater number, especially for self-employed workers, to reopen their work, as well as issuing detailed instructions for each business and profession regarding the procedures required to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus based on the nature of the business in Every sector or profession.

Regarding the field of occupational and public safety for workers who are still on the job, it is noteworthy that there are still thousands of workers working in vital sectors even in light of the Coronavirus crisis, such as bakeries, private health sectors, foodstuff factories, etc.

Continue working in these sectors required the availability of a healthy and appropriate work environment as well as the availability of occupational and health safety tools within the workplace. The following matters must be taken into consideration:

  • It is important to adhere to and to abide by all the standards and instructions stipulated by the Labor Law and the Public Health Law within the framework of occupational safety and health and the preventive instructions issued by the competent official authorities to confront the outbreak of the Corona disease COVID-19.
  • It is also vital to use all protective and personal safety equipment during work and not neglect them as well as abiding by them. Employers must provide all preventive and safety procedures and prepare worksites accordingly to maintain all health standards and provide all tools of occupational safety for workers and not invoke economic conditions, in order to ensure the safety and security of workers, maintain the work environment and avoid serious disasters that affect the lives of workers and citizens at once.

[1] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics- The Labour Force Survey 2019  http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/postar.aspx?lang=ar&ItemID=3665#

[2] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics- The Labour Force Survey 2019 – third quarter http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/Press_Ar_7-11-2019-LF-ar.pdf

[3] Masdar News Network shorturl.at/eAEY9

[4] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics- the current status of the Palestinian labor force 2019 http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/postar.aspx?tabID=512&lang=ar&ItemID=3729&mid=3915&wversion=Staging#

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