Using the war in Gaza as a cover – Maaleh Adumim police and Israeli company collaborate to dismiss a Palestinian shop steward

<p>On Thursday, July 31, Maaleh Adumim police revoked the work permit of Hatem Abu Ziadeh, a Palestinian who served as chair of the Workers’ Committee at the Zarfati Garage.</p>

On Thursday, July 31, Maaleh Adumim police revoked the work permit of Hatem Abu Ziadeh, a Palestinian who served as chair of the Workers’ Committee at the Zarfati Garage. Because the Israeli Garage operates in the settlement industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank (Area C), the revoking of the permit amounts to a job dismissal. The police decision was based on fabricated security claims made by the employer.

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The Zarfati garage, which for years employed 50 Palestinian workers in sub-minimum conditions at low salaries, has faced in the last year a unique organizing drive. Workers organized with the independent union WAC-MAAN elected a committee to represent them and forced the employer to sit and talk. However, despite some changes for the better, the bosses acted to scupper the unionizing efforts and avoid a collective agreement. Last week they tried to dismiss Abu Ziadeh but came up against opposition from the rest of the workers, who declared a strike.

It should be noted that Abu Ziadeh has been employed at the garage for 17 years as a professional mechanic, and that the security claims against him were raised for the first time in a court hearing held on July 27, 2014 at the Jerusalem Labor Court. Here WAC-MAAN had submitted a request to declare a collective labor dispute against the management’s attempts to break the strike and dismiss the chairperson. These security claims did not appear at all in the summons Abu Ziadeh had received a week earlier to attend a hearing prior to dismissal. Is it not strange that a quiet and law-abiding worker of so many years’ standing suddenly becomes a “security threat,” precisely at the moment he is elected to chair the Workers’ Committee?

hatem abu ziade smallNow the garage is raising new false claims, making cynical use of the war in Gaza and the fact that Abu Ziadeh is Palestinian. The garage has claimed, for example, that he sabotaged military vehicles being repaired on the premises, that he threatened workers during the strike, and that he even presented himself as an officer in the Palestinian Preventative Security Force. Ziadeh denies these accusations and explains that the garage lodged complaints against him because of his central role in the unionizing efforts.

Contrary to the accusations, the decision to strike was taken by all the workers, who are organized with WAC-MAAN. During a general assembly of workers held on July 22, the union leaders asked the workers to vote on the motion to start a strike immediately. The workers decided unanimously to stand by Abu Ziadeh and continue the unionizing effort.

Although the strike was legal, the garage management did all it could to break it, hiring substitute workers. Moreover, each time a WAC-MAAN representative came to the strike vigil outside the premises, representatives of the Mishor Adumim Industrialists Committee turned up and threatened violence (WAC-MAAN has filmed evidence of this).

Instead of protecting the workers’ right to hold a strike vigil, the Maaleh Adumim police took the side of the employer and answered the call from the industrialists’ committee. Last week, the police arrested two WAC-MAAN staff members, one of them the National Director Assaf Adiv, on the absurd excuse that they had incited the Palestinian workers. They also prevented the workers from standing before the garage entrance during the last two days of the strike.

On July 30, the police came to the garage and asked the workers for information about the putative threats against them by Adiv and Abu Ziadeh. The workers denied that any such threats had been made. They reiterated that they themselves had declared the strike. They stated that WAC-MAAN was representing them in their efforts to reach a collective agreement. Nevertheless, on July 31 the police summoned Abu Ziadeh to a further investigation and annulled his work permit.

It should be noted that all Palestinian workers employed in settlement industrial zones such as Mishor Adumim must carry a work permit issued by the Israeli Civil Administration. These permits must be renewed every four months. On a number of occasions, WAC-MAAN has seen employers threaten to revoke permits in order to silence workers who demand their rights. Now it is clear how the system works: the employer sees a worker who dares to raise his head. He fabricates security concerns against the worker, and the executive branch – the police – revoke the permit. It is clean and simple – and underhanded.

WAC-MAAN and the workers at Zarfati Garage are determined to struggle against this arbitrary persecution of Committee Chairperson Hatem Abu Ziadeh.

WAC-MAAN will take legal action and will also work in the public sphere, locally and internationally. We appeal to unions and to all supporters of labour to protest against this gross violation of the right to organize.

WAC-MAAN will file a an official complaint on the matter with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. It will also appeal to the Trade Union Advisory Board of the OECD, asking them to persuade the Israeli Authorities to drop the accusations against Abu Ziadeh.

We call on trade unions and human rights organizations to support the right of Palestinian workers in Mishor Adumim to organize in the union of their choice and to demand their rights without fear of persecution.

For contact: Assaf Adiv, Executive director, assafa@maan.org.il

Please help us sustain our struggle: Donate to help us bring Hatem Abu Ziadeh back to work.

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