Palestinians Sign First-ever Labor Pact With Israeli Employer

Employees to be entitled to annual wage increases and higher pay grades, as well as paid Jewish and Muslim holidays.

The Mishor Adumim industrial zone.
The Mishor Adumim industrial zone. Michal Fattal

In a groundbreaking agreement for Palestinian workers’ rights in West Bank settlements, the 75 employees of a garage in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone signed a collective labor agreement with Israeli management last week.

The accord, which was reached through arbitration after three years of labor strife and lawsuits, was reached between Zarfati Garage – one of the largest in the industrial zone, close to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim – and the WAC-Maan labor organization based in Tel Aviv.

The collective labor agreement, the first of its type, marks a major advance for the estimated 50,000 Palestinians who work in Area C of the West Bank (the part under Israeli civilian control). The Mishor Adumim industrial zone, which covers more than 1,600 dunams (395 acres) and is only a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, employs more than 1,300 people.

Although a 2007 High Court of Justice decision entitled them to the same social benefits and labor laws as in Israel, the regulations are rarely enforced. Many don’t get a pay slip or benefits they are legally entitled to.

The agreement at Zarfati followed a struggle that began in 2013 when employees agreed to organize under the sponsorship of WAC-Maan. Negotiations started that September.

Management agreed, starting in January 2014, to honor the minimum wage laws, pay vacation, travel and sick pay, contribute to employee pension-fund contributions and provide convalescence pay, as required by law. However, management wouldn’t agree to compensating workers for pay and benefits they hadn’t been receiving; workers also wanted annual wage increases and formal pay grades.

WAC-Maan said tensions broke out after management fired Hatem Abu Ziadeh in July 2014, saying he had sabotaged a vehicle he was working on. He was ultimately reinstated after the labor courts intervened and the two sides agreed to arbitration.

The four-year agreement that was hammered out in arbitration with garage owner Morris Zarfati compensates the workers for social benefits they hadn’t been getting until now – to be paid in installments over the next three years. A mechanism for settling future disputes also appears in the contract.

Employees are also entitled to annual wage increases and higher pay grades, as well as paid Jewish and Muslim holidays.