Tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority employees and their families took to the streets of Gaza City on Saturday, to protest a 30-percent cut in their salaries by the PA.
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The employees, officials and former members of the PA security forces came from all over the Gaza Strip to protest in downtown Gaza, calling for the resignation of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Finance Minister Dr. Shukri Bishara. Calls were also heard for the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Some 60,000 public workers and officials in the Gaza Strip receive salaries from the Ramallah government. Most of them are their family’s main breadwinner.
Such a massive demonstration of PA employees, most of whom are members of Fatah or identified with the organization, is rare in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas government in the Strip permitted the demonstration because it was directed against the PA and Fatah’s leadership in Ramallah.
The sudden cut in wages without any prior notice – employees only became aware of it when they went to the bank to withdraw their salaries – has been the talk of the Gaza Strip over the past week. No solution seems imminent.
Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, tens of thousands of PA employees, mainly security personnel, have lost their jobs. Administration employees are working part-time or in low-level positions. Hamas has placed 40,000 new workers in its own security forces and government jobs. The PA government in Ramallah continues to pay the wages of the dismissed employees, while Hamas is paying its own workers through taxes and other sources of income the movement has.
The government in Ramallah said it had cut wages to PA employees in Gaza because it didn’t have the money to continue paying their full salary. The decision was harder for PA workers in Gaza to accept when they realized PA employees in the West Bank were continuing to receive their full salary.
The PA government in Ramallah said the steps were neither punishment nor a political decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip, but rather a necessity due to the 70-percent cut in outside aid the PA was receiving and economic pressures on it.
PA spokesman Yusuf al-Mahmoud said the cut did not affect basic wages but additional payments that came with the salary, adding it was only temporary.
Some PA people in the Gaza Strip expressed concern that the cut stemmed mainly not from a budgetary problem but a political decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip – in response to Hamas’ decision to establish a new administration for the Strip. If this is the case, it means a widening of the rift between Hamas and Fatah, and a disconnect between the Strip and the West Bank.
“This is a message from the PA to Hamas that they will have to bear responsibility for all the inhabitants of the Strip, including the tens of thousands of PA workers,” a senior PA official in the Gaza Strip said. “There is a hidden war going on that tens of thousands of people and their families are paying the price for.”
One official, a member of the PA security forces, told Haaretz: “My salary is 6,000 shekels [about $1,650]. What’s left is 4,000 shekels, and I have debts and other payments of 2,000 shekels. How can I live like that when I have eight children? Who will support them? What they’ve done is a crime.”
A former senior PA administrative official said some senior officials discovered that their wages had been cut by as much as 50 percent. He said the argument that the workers and officials, including the security forces, have not been working since the Hamas takeover was no reason to punish them.
“We received a direct order from the PA in Ramallah not to return to work under the Hamas government,” he said. “People who went to work anyhow found their salary had been frozen.” He described the situation as being “between a rock and a hard place.”
Palestinian websites reported that an officer from the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip, Sharif Kandil, 53, had a stroke after discovering that, following the cut in his salary, there was no money left because of the debts he was paying. Kandil, who lived in the Nuseirat refugee camp, died in hospital a few hours later.
The Fatah Central Committee said Saturday that a panel will be established to examine the claims of the Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip, with the panel due to hand in its report by April 25.