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Legal Framework for Trade Unions in Palestine

As part of the Birzeit University Legal Encounters series, the Birzeit University Institute of Law (IoL) held on Wednesday, June 6, 2011, a symposium entitled “Legal Framework of Trade Union Work in Palestine”, to discuss the most significant obstacles behind the non-issuance of a regulatory law for union work in Palestine, despite the enactment of the Palestinian Labor Law 11 years ago.  The Director General of the General Directorate of Work Relations at the Ministry of Labor, Mr. Bilal Thawabeh, the Secretary of the General Union of Palestine Labor unions, Mr. Hussein Foqaha, and the Deputy Secretary General of the General Union of Palestine Workers, Mr. Muhammad Al-Arqawy, took part in the symposium.

The meeting was started with an address in which the IoL legal researcher, Mr. Mahmoud Alawneh, welcomed the participants and the audience, noting the importance of the subject as it affects the rights and duties of the largest segment of the Palestinian society, which are the workers.

In his address, Mr. Thawabeh stressed that there is a legal void in the process of regulating union work in Palestine.  He said that the reason was due to the Palestinian Labor Law, enacted in 2000, annulling the Jordanian Law that was in effect in Palestine.  The Jordanian Law represented the regulatory framework of union regulation, and no work was carried out to set out an alternative framework to this day.  He also said that the lack of such a law was due to the inability to arrive at a union law despite all the attempts made by multiple parties for that.  Furthermore, he said that there is a disharmony among the administrative structures of the various unions.

Mr. Thawabeh added that “The Ministry of Labor deals with more than 300 unions that do not have agreement among them.  The Ministry strives to present a regulation for union work in Palestine that is in line with the dominant and general standards and principles in the countries of the world, such as transparency, integrity, freedom, etc.”

As for Mr. Foqaha, he stressed the aspiration of the Palestinian unions in having a law that regulates their work.  However, this law should not limit their freedom, as plurality and freedom represent a positive and necessary issue in the success and excellence of the work of the unions.  He added:” We, as the General Union of Palestine’s Workers, are interested in the creation of a union law, because everybody rejects the law of the jungle.  That naturally does mean that the labor movement should abandon its independence, but instead, wide-ranging freedoms must be available within the union law, as competition among the various unions constitutes a case of distinct and serious work, and brings good results.”

Mr. Foqaha overviewed the most significant accomplishments made by the union movement on the professional and national levels, pointing out to a general direction among the Palestinian working forces, as represented by their various frameworks, towards creating a general legal framework for Palestinian Union work.  The draft laws that were made in the years prior to union regulation, however, did not rise up to the level that achieves what is expected of them, and in particular in taking into consideration these limitations.

As for the Deputy Secretary General of the General Union of Palestine Workers, Mr. Muhammad Al-Arqawy, he explained that the reasons that lead to the presence of gaps in union work are due to uncontrollable causes resulting from the particular Palestinian situation, other controllable ones such as legislation and incomplete regulations, in addition to the inability to formulate the objectives of the unions correctly and actively and the lack of their own strategy that would contribute to achieving the desired objective.

 Al-Arqawy agreed with the two other speakers on the need for a law that regulates union work.  He said that there is a state of confusion that Palestinian union organizations are living through in the Palestinian Territories.  He gave various reasons for such confusion which relate in part to Palestinian union work and the mechanism of its practice, while the other part of these reasons is due to the nature of labor legislation, some of which is afflicted with shortcomings and ambiguity, which affects the Palestinian labor movement in general.  He stressed the need to work, despite Palestinian reality, to set out a legal framework that regulates the Palestinian union movement, in cooperation and consultation among the various concerned official and civic parties, and the parties that represent in particular the sides of the productive relationship.

In the conclusion of the discussion that took place in the meeting, the participants acknowledged the importance of honest work in setting out a legal regulation for Palestinian union frameworks, due to the important and pivotal role played by these frameworks at the professional level and even the national level in Palestine.  A reference was made to the importance of the study which IoL is preparing on union regulation in Palestine within the framework of the project carried out in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Labor to review labor legislation.