Palestinian workers fighting for union recognition, Zarfati Garage, Mishor Adumim

Mishor Adumim is an industrial park located in the industrial zone of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, about 7 kilometres from Jerusalem. The town was granted official status as a ‘permanent’ settlement in 1977 after Menachim Begin took office. In the late 1990’s around 1,000 Bedouin were forced to move from land that now forms part of the settlement. In 2012 the population was 39,000.

According to the Jerusalem Post, in 2011 Mishor Adumim hosted 220 businesses, among them textile plants, garages, food manufacturers, aluminium and metal working factories, and printing companies. One of these garages, Zarfati, has 50 Palestinian workers who are involved in a fight for union recognition. They are members of the Israeli Workers Advice Center (WAC) which helped them set up a workers committee and start negotiations with the management for a collective agreement. (Download a PDF here zarfati or continue reading below)

Demanding a legal wage

WAC has been involved in negotiations on and off with Zarfati since August of last year when a decision to strike first brought the management to the table. The workers had been receiving wages lower than the minimum wage, lacking proper wage slips, no holidays, no sickness pay or national insurance, pension contributions or overtime pay. They were demanding a legal wage with full social benefits, under a collective agreement.

For Palestinians to organise a union in the settlements is a very difficult task. To work in an Israeli settlement requires a permit which is used as a means of encouraging a quiescent workforce. The permits have to be renewed every four months by the Israeli Civil Administration. The withdrawal of one is, therefore, an ever-present threat: no permit, no work. So it’s no surprise that the Palestinians constitute a super-exploited workforce which can earn as little as a third of the Israeli minimum wage, despite the fact that legally they are supposed to receive the same wages and benefits as Israeli workers, in line with a High Court decision in 2007. However, there has been no attempt to enforce the decision, and employers are still trying to overturn it through the courts.

The Israeli occupation has impoverished the West Bank. Before the closure of the Border around 110,000 Palestinians made the daily trip to Israel to work. Now there are only jobs available in the settlements or industrial zones set up on the West Bank to take advantage of cheap Palestinian labour; people who are desperate for work to put food on the table of their families. An estimated 20,000 Palestinians at any one time work in the settlements.

A potential breakthrough

WAC’s unionisation effort is important because if they could win a collective agreement it would be a breakthrough in the difficult conditions of the settlements. Other workers might pick up the baton from the Zarfati workers and demand an end to conditions of super-exploitation.

The head of the worker’s committee, or shop steward, at Zarfati, is Hatem Abuzeadeh (pictured). He has worked there for 17 years. Like managements everywhere, in order to stop unionisation, they sometimes seek to behead the union by victimisation of its leaders. At Zarfati they have now utilised the Gaza war in order to get rid of Hatem and to try to crush the unionisation effort. The police took away his permit of the spurious grounds that he was a ‘security threat’, after his employer raised a complaint against him. Without the permit he cannot enter the settlement, being effectively sacked. In response the workers voted unanimously to strike and demand his reinstatement. Members of the Mishor Adumim Industrialists Committee turned up on the picket line and threatened violence. Instead of protecting the workers, of course, the police took the side of the employer. Two WAC employees were arrested on the grounds that they were ‘inciting’ Palestinian workers.

Subsequently WAC went to the Jerusalem Labour Court which ruled in their favour, instructing the company to start negotiating with the union under court supervision. It was complicated by the fact that the manager had to be released from military service.

Management manoeuvres

However, using the pretext that they had a meeting with 2 members of the workers committee on August 20th the management appealed to the Court to cancel the case as negotiations were supposedly resumed. The company was trying to separate the workers from its union, offering concessions just so long as they forget about WAC.

So on August 25th WAC filed a petition in the Jerusalem Labour Court against the Zarfati management’s attempt to get the union out of the workplace. The aim of the petition is to get the court to stop the Garage boss’s manoeuvres and oblige him to negotiate with the union.

At the same time the union is seeking to cancel the ban on the Hatem Abuzeadeh and get him reinstated. The case may well go to the Supreme Court.

What you can do

Messages of support should be sent to assafa@maan.org.il

Emails calling for Hatem’s reinstatement and an end to these union-busting efforts should be sent to:

zarfati9@zahav.net.il

Shlomo.Itzhaky@Economy.gov.il

sar@justice.gov.il

To contribute to a special fund towards the costs of the legal cases contact Roni Ben Efrat at roni@hanitzoz.org.il

For more information visit the WAC website at http://eng.wac-maan.org.il

Martin Wicks August 27th 2014

 

 

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