Friday, June 07, 2013

Middle East: Ongoing Israeli restrictions hampering Palestinian employment, economic activity

Street scene in Gaza. Photo: World Bank/Natalia Cieslik

UN - 6 June 2013 – The United Nations labour agency is calling for lifting restrictions on movement, employment and economic activity in the occupied Arab territories to boost opportunities for decent work and to enable the Palestinian economy to grow.

In its annual report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, which was presented today in Geneva, the International Labour Organization (ILO) cites a number of factors for the fiscal crisis in Palestine.

These include the ongoing failure of donors to meet their commitments, the decision of Israel to suspend, at least temporarily, the payment of clearance revenues, as well as the pace of settlement growth.

“This situation calls for measures by Israel not only to relax the application of restrictions on people and businesses but to lift them altogether, thus enabling the Palestinian economy to grow and generate decent jobs,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says in his preface to the report.

“The continuing occupation and expanding settlement activity are blocking the Palestinian economy, particularly its private sector, from significant progress,” he adds. The current situation will remain unsustainable until it is based on social justice.

According to the ILO, the Palestinian economy is grappling with stagnating growth, higher unemployment and poverty and food dependency. The number of unemployed Palestinians rose by 15.3 per cent between 2011 and 2012, with the unemployment rate reaching 23 per cent.

The situation is “particularly acute” in Gaza, where unemployment has reached 31 per cent and is almost 50 per cent amongst women, the agency said in a news release.

It adds that 18.4 per cent of young Palestinians were neither in the labour force nor in education, including 31.4 per cent of young women. “These bleak indicators point to a clear need to develop large-scale programmes to support the school-to-work transition, such as a youth employment guarantee scheme,” says ILO.

Excessive restrictions, which are economically and socially unproductive, are harming both Palestinian and Israeli business activities and any prospects for growth led by the private sector, it adds.

While last year’s report warned of a dangerous political stalemate, there had still been, at that time, some advances in terms of economic growth, employment, social dialogue and gender equality in the Palestinian labour market, Mr. Ryder says.

“The momentum for growth, already fragile at the time, has now come to a halt, and a fiscal crisis is turning into an economic and social crisis,” he adds.

The report says that any effort to maintain a perceived status quo, in effect, promotes or at least permits “a further dangerous deterioration of the situation.”

“At the very least, nothing should be done to make the situation worse,” says Mr. Ryder. “Denying rightful resources to the Palestinian Authority, stepping up the already unprecedented pace of settlement growth and constraining the Palestinian economy through restrictions and the weight of the settlements, will inevitably destroy any belief in the promise of two States for two peoples.

“Instead,” he states, “together with genuine negotiations, what is needed is action to revive the flagging peace process and restore economic growth.”

The report also points out that work in settlements remains largely unregulated and is open to abuse. The State Comptroller and Ombudsman of Israel had recently criticized the Israeli authorities for slow action in ensuring the inspection of wages, occupational safety and health, and social insurance for all settlement workers, including Palestinians.

“All workers, irrespective of their place and form of employment, must be treated with dignity and respect for their fundamental rights, and must have effective access to remedies in the event of violations,” Mr. Ryder states.

The ILO is currently hosting the 102nd session of the International Labour Conference, which opened on 30 May and runs through 14 June.