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ILO probes Palestinian rights.

Respect for Palestinian workers' rights is "impossible" while the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip persists, and the achievement of autonomy would ease only some of the pressures, according to a report from the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO).

An ILO fact-finding mission visited the region early this year. Their report, recently adopted by the Geneva-based ILO's 80th Session, stressed that "the massive military presence in the occupied Arab territories and the huge array of military rules, regulations and security measures that govern practically every aspect of the daily lives of the population of these territories, all place very severe restrictions on the workers of those territories, especially as regards freedom of employment choice, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of association".

The ILO strongly deplored all violence in the occupied territories. Although noting that it stemmed from political factors which are beyond the ILO's scope of concern, the Report notes that "the consequences of this violence - curfews, arrests and detention, roadblocks, deportations, the closing of the territories etc - can be devastating for the Palestinian population as a whole, and more particularly for the Palestinians with jobs in Israel who, because of increased harassment and restrictions, find access to their workplace rendered more difficult or even impossible".

Noting that "democracy in society can be greatly strengthened by the existence of strong and independent social institutions, in particular workers' and employers' organisations", the report called on Israel to encourage "genuine trade unionism in the territories". It urged "that an end be put to the general attitude whereby all trade unions in the territories are considered to be fronts for terrorist activity".

The report urged a major reform of the national insurance system as it affects Palestinian workers. "On the one hand, very substantial amounts of money are involved and, on the other hand, the Palestinian workers only obtain a fraction of the social security benefits to which other Israeli workers, who pay identical contributions, are entitled", said the ILO. The report condemned the "establishment and extension of settlements in the occupied territories", noting that such colonisation had "profound and detrimental effects on the population of the territories".

The report concluded that, on the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, the population "continue to be subjected to restrictions on access to water, confiscation of land, the expansion of settlements and restrictions on the export of local products". Further, they "continue to be subjected to Israeli imposition of educational and cultural norms which they find unacceptable".

The ILO report included a review of the salient features of the economy of the occupied territories which, it said, was as fragile as ever and continues to suffer from severe instability". The ILO affirmed: "Unprotected and undirected, constrained in many ways and undersized, it cannot compete fairly with the Israeli economy".

It continued: "Over the years, the territories have become utterly dependent on Israel as a provider of wage employment and as a source of the products they buy".

In 1991 the West Bank and Gaza Strip (excluding occupied East Jerusalem) suffered a $325 million deficit in its balance of payments with Israel, said the report. In the same year, per capita gross national product (GNP) was estimated at $2,040 for the West Bank and $1,250 for the Gaza Strip, compared with $11,480 for Israel.

The report sounds a dire warning about Palestinian employment prospects. In 1991, the labour force of the occupied territories totalled 312,000, and can be expected to increase by well over 10,000 per year net for the rest of the decade - by over 6,000 annually in the West Bank and 4,000 annually in the Gaza Strip.

The creation of sufficient new jobs merely to absorb the new entrants to the workforce will require an estimated investment of $25,000 per job, or $250 million per year. "This order of magnitude (thousands of millions of dollars) is staggering and such figures are probably unrealistic", said the report. "It will be difficult, even under the most optimistic of reasonable investment scenarios, year after year to absorb all who come new to the labour market".
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Title Annotation:International Labour Organization
Author:George, Alan
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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