Thousands of Palestinians Strike in West Bank Over PA Social Security Law

The law looks to guarantee old-age allowances, workers’ compensation and paid maternity leave to private-sector employees ■ Private sector workers say employee withholding is too high, while supporters blame a disinformation campaign

Palestinians take part in a protest against a social security law in Ramallah, West Bank, January 15, 2019.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Some 2,000 Palestinians working in the private sector demonstrated Tuesday against a new social security law that went into effect after a few delays.

Although fewer people took part than in previous protests against the law, the participants, who called the Palestinian Authority a “gang of thieves,” seemed to represent a prevailing mood of total distrust in the government.

A strike called in Palestinian cities in the West Bank Tuesday was observed strictly in Hebron and only partially in other places. The Palestinian Bar Association joined the strike, announcing that its members would not appear in court.

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Changes to the law have not satisfied the popular resistance movement against it over the past six months. The law, which is supported by economists and social welfare groups affiliated mainly with the Palestinian left, aims to guarantee old-age allowances, workers’ compensation and paid maternity leave to private-sector employees. Current law mandates a one-time payment of one month’s salary for every year of employment.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the law would go into effect on time, but representatives of the resistance movement said they would not give up until it was annulled. Employers support their fight, encouraging their workers to take part in the protests, even on the company’s expense.

Palestinians walk past a closed shop during a general strike protesting the Palestinian Social Security Law in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 15, 2019.
Nasser Nasser/AP Photo

Under the law, employers pay 9 percent of each employee’s salary into the fund, plus 1.5 percent to cover severance pay. Leftist groups said disinformation about the new law included the claim that only one member of a double-income married couple would receive benefits.

Large families in Hebron have joined the fight against the law, which officials at social-welfare groups say shows conservative forces’ interference in social legislation.

Salaried employees who are against the law deny suggestions that their employers are using them to overturn it. They say the withholding tax is too high. They also claim that the authorities are unable to enforce the minimum monthly wage of 1,450 shekels ($395), saying that more than 15 percent of wage earners earn less.

Given this situation, employees say, it is hard to believe that the authorities will be able to collect the employer portion of the contributions. Another argument is that given the exigencies of the Israeli occupation, there is no guarantee that these funds will be shielded from seizure by Israel. Hovering over all these arguments are constant fears about a lack of transparency and the funds’ possible misuse by the PA.

In the absence of a functioning Palestinian parliament, the social security law was signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2016 as a presidential order. Representatives of the government, the Palestinian trade union foundation, employers and the International Labor Organization cooperated in drafting the legislation.

Some changes demanded by leftist and social-welfare groups were introduced as a result of negotiations, including a decrease of employee contributions, an increase of employer payments and the inclusion of disability allowances.

The Palestinian Social Security Institution was established in 2017 to manage the funds. It is ostensibly independent from the PA government, but the board chairman is the PA labor minister.