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.
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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.