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ATUC Webinar Series: COVID-19 Crisis Impact on Palestinian Women and Workers

2020-06-03

Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) Newsroom – by Ghaya Ben Mbarek,

 

On April 27, 2020 a webinar session was held through the zoom platform hosted by the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) with several unionist figures taking part of the discussion.

Guest speakers included: Mouna Khalili, treasurer of the General Union of Palestinian Woman, and Aisha Hamoudha on behalf of the General Confederation of Palestinian Trade Unions.

The webinar kicked off with an introduction of the guest speakers by the session’s moderator Hind Ben Ammar, Office Coordinator of the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC).

Mouna Khalili started the discussion during the first half of the webinar, giving a summary about the general status of Palestinian workers both with the Green Line boundaries as well as the West Bank and Gaza.

“Violations in Palestine continue to increase even as we are going through this global health crisis, Coronavirus did not put an end the occupation’s gross violation. In Jerusalem, random arrests increased, even encompassing volunteers who attempted to help with sterilization and cleaning outdoors, as well as lands’ confiscations which continued and never stopped”, said Khalili.

“These procedures that were taken by Israeli authorities completely disregarded and shattered all international human rights agreements, specifically noting that they did not take any procedure whatsoever concerning the protection of Palestinian prisoners and detainees”, added Khalili.

Khalili noted that the General Union of Palestinian Woman and other local NGOs attempted to shed light on and rally support regarding this matter through writing letters to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres.

Khalili also said that through this attempt they wanted the international community to pressure Israel to release sick, women and children detainees who were held within Israeli prisons and were forced to face harsh health conditions during this global pandemic.

According to Khalili, 5000 Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israeli prisons, including 200 children and 42 women, with this number being more likely to increase at any time due to the ongoing restrictions and violations.

“These prisoners lack medications and sanitizing tools as well as the most basic health care services, which puts them at risk of contracting either the Coronavirus or any other contagious diseases. For that reason, we have put to public these calls since as Israel has ignored any demands made concerning Palestinian prisoners, either from the Palestinian government or human rights organizations”, continued Khalili.

It is important to note that Palestine, similar to other countries around the world, declared a state of emergency and demanded to people to follow the necessary self-isolation and quarantine measures, which pushed many people to stay at home and there by led to exacerbation of the issue of domestic violence against women, as explained by Khalili.

“The state of quarantine aggravated the economic and social situations of many families, which lead to an increase in violence which women are subjected to”, added Khalili.

“Official figures show that domestic violence cases have tremendously increased

In the months of March and April, where around 70 women were subjected to a violence that was directly caused by the coronavirus crisis, 48% of which were cases that took place during the emergency state period. The case of violence varied between psychological, physical, sexual and in some cases economic violence, as some women were forced to stay at home due to lockdown and lost their sources of income as a result… Some women were also subjected to forced house lockdown”, further elaborated Khalili.

Khalili noted that as the majority of Palestinian women operate in the irregular working sector and in day care facilities which had to shut down due to the crisis, many of them were unable to make ends meet. Even workers within the Green Line borders were unable to sustain their basic needs due to the crisis.

“Despite the fact that at the beginning of the crisis an agreement was signed by the Private Sector, the Ministry of Labor and Trade Union groups, which stipulated that workers would be guaranteed half of their wages at the least if the crisis continues, however, the terms of such agreement was never sustained, which in my judgement aggravated the crisis”, added Khalili.

Mouna Khalili also explained that the Palestinian government did, however, provide a financial grant of 100 $ for workers who lost their jobs, yet despite these procedures, poverty rates doubled, especially in families and households who depend on female breadwinners to make their daily ends meet.

Khalili also mentioned that Palestinian women also faced other challenges namely concerning the provision of shelter for women victims of violence. Indeed, there are only three safe homes for Palestinian women to take shelter at, in addition to the fact that many women found themselves unable to acquire their

rights during the coronavirus crisis due to the closure of the courts of law and several other precautionary measures.

Answering a question about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, Mouna Khalili noted that “Gaza have already been suffering of lockdown for 13 years and as it possesses a very high population density, it is very dangerous if the number of infections increases, however, due to its lockdown status, there was no widespread outbreak of the Coronavirus within it”.

Concluding her statement, Mouna Khalili noted that the situation before Coronavirus was a kind of bad, but after the coronavirus, it will certainly become another kind of bad. The financial crisis that Palestinians has been already suffering from due to the occupation has worsened because of the salary cuts that were issued by the Israeli authorities to support their own health systems at the expense of Palestinians, who would not eventually benefit from any heath protection or care.

 

During the second half of the webinar, Aisha Hamoudha of the General Confederation of Palestinian Trade Unions, took to the floor to further elaborate on the issues and challenges faced by Palestinian women during the pandemic as well as the extent of procedures taken by the Palestinian authorities.

“The Confederation worked tirelessly to include women in the formulation processes of the emergency committees and the complaints units, in order to be more inclusive”, started off Hamoudha.

“The Coronavirus pandemic highlighted not only the strengths but also the weaknesses of the Palestinian social system… It showed that around 25.000 women are the main breadwinners of their families and that many of them are facing dire poverty circumstances… This crisis has also underlined the major existent loopholes in the Palestinian labor system”, elaborated Hamoudha.

Hamoudha also attempted to note that “This global pandemic has brought to our attention the major violations that Palestinian women and workers are being subjected to from the Israeli occupation authorities”.

“Palestinian workers within the Green Line are being extorted and pushed to work in elderly Nursery homes, which are jobs that were rejected by many Israeli and other foreign workers”, she continued.

Hamoudha also called out the occupation’s inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, namely female prisoners, who continue to sit inside their cells unprotected and without access to basic cleaning products.

According to Hamoudha noted that about 150.000 Palestinian workers were allowed to go to their homes after being exposed and having worked in major

virus clusters, without any precautions whatsoever. Such behaviour, according to Hamoudha, puts many other Palestinians at risk and aborts any other attempts to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.

“In addition to such actions, Israeli authorities also blatantly applied major cuts not only from Palestinian workers’ salaries but also from their own social security insurance total, the Israeli government steals that money and directs it in support of its own counter COVID-19 funds”, explained Hamoudha detailing crimes by the occupation authorities during the Coronavirus pandemic crisis period.

To conclude the webinar, Aisha Hamoudha raised some recommendations that she considered to be important to dwell on after the Coronavirus crisis.

Hamoudha noted that it is essential to ratify some key ILO agreements that guarantee more rights for workers, a reassessment of the concepts relating to remote work, the concept of professional health and safety as well as the creation of more inclusive labor system that encompasses and takes more into consideration irregular and daily workers.

Hamoudha also underscored the need to review the concept of Poverty in Palestine in a way that includes more categories and fragments of the Palestinian population, as well as the issuance of the social security law which became more urgent than ever in light of the occupation and the aggressivity of the private sector.

Hence, Hamoudha concluded the Palestine webinar on a note concerning the urgency to issue a social security law once the Coronavirus crisis is overcome.