Starting March 2, 2015 the Regional Labour Court in Jerusalem will deliberate 3 petitions submitted by WAC-MAAN Workers Union to reverse the dismissals of three of its union activists at Zarfati Garage. Additionally, a major hearing is expected on April 21 in the National Labour Court as Zarfati has appealed a previous Regional Court decision that recognized WAC-MAAN as the representative union of its workers.
The conflict between WAC-MAAN and Zarfati Garage goes to the heart of the union’s right to represent Palestinian workers in Mishor Adumim, a West Bank industrial zone run by settlers, and to the heart of the rights of Palestinian workers there to organise. Employers in the region stand behind the Garage in support of its effort to prevent WAC-MAAN from gaining a foothold amongst their Palestinian workers. Recently, another employer, M.S. Aluminium, was reported to be applying systematic pressure on its workers, after they went on a two hour strike, to persuade them to forgo their WAC-MAAN union membership.
Deliberations in the Regional Labour Court in Jerusalem:
Judge Eyal Avrahami of the Jerusalem Labour Court is due to deliberate on WAC-MAAN’s petitions to reinstate the three workers that Zarfati dismissed as a part of a lengthy campaign to remove WAC-MAAN from its doorstep. The dismissed men are union representative Hatem Abu-Ziadeh, against whom Zarfati management has made a number of security-related and criminal claims, all of which have been disproved (see below); Nidal Rustum, a union activist who has been dismissed under the guise of redundancy; and Hassan Jelayta, a union representative who, at the end of a seven months’ sick-leave, was told by the garage he cannot return to work.
The treatment of the three dismissed men, two of whom are elected union members, and the third an activist with WAC-MAAN, illustrates the aggressive nature of Zarfati Garage’s actions. This position was also reflected in its appeal to the National Labour Court against a decision of the Regional Labour Court on December 28, 2014 which ruled that WAC-MAAN is the representative union in the Garage, and that therefore the garage is obliged to negotiate a collective agreement with it. Pending the National Court decision, Zarfati has ignored the Regional Court ruling and continues to dismiss workers illegally.
Collapse of the house of cards of accusations against union representative:
A letter of dismissal, sent on February 8, 2015 to Abu Ziadeh, gave no reason for his dismissal. This in itself was a breach of the law, because employers are obligated to specify the reason for the dismissal of their employees . This was not a coincidence, as the Garage had tried many versions in its attempt to dismiss Abu Ziadeh. For six months it led a campaign in which a number of false accusations were made against him, all of which have been disproved:
A complaint by the garage manager was filed with the police authorities on July 28, 2014, claiming that Abu-Ziadeh sabotaged a military vehicle while it was being repaired in the garage. The case was closed on Dec. 1, 2014 due to lack of evidence.
During a hearing in the Regional Labour Court on Dec. 7, 2014 a “document” was produced, apparently written by a junior armament force officer, demanding that Abu-Ziadeh be removed from the Garage and making it clear that the Army sees the removal of the workers’ leader as a condition for the continuation of having military vehicles repaired by the garage. The document was also presented by Zarfati in Abu-Ziadeh’s pre-dismissal hearing on Jan. 26, 2015 as evidence that he is a security risk, contradicting the fact that the case against him had been closed.
On February 17 Abu Ziadeh’s Attorney Michal Pomerantz managed to get a clarification letter from the IDF’s Department of Public Affairs that made it clear that the officers’ letter had been written in response to a report received from the garage itself, in which it claimed that Abu-Ziadeh was responsible for the inadequate repair of a vehicle. This meant two things: first that the above letter had no security or criminal accusations against Hatem Abu Ziadeh, contrary to the meaning that the Garage tried to give to this letter; secondly, that the information on the alleged damaging of vehicles by Abu Ziadeh came from the Zarfati Garage and not from the Army or any other external source. It should be mentioned that with all the different and contradicting versions of the reason for his dismissal, the Garage never said that his work was inadequate. This demonstrates that the security accusations against Abu-Ziadeh were based solely on the reports of the Garage owners, who are clearly trying to criminalize Abu Ziadeh for his union activity.
Dismissal of the two other workers:
Nidal Rustum, a mechanic with 25 years’ experience who has been working at Zarfati for two years, was said by the garage to have become redundant. In fact, there was no redundancy. Had the need to make cuts been genuine, the garage would have selected a less experienced employee, according to the Last In First Out (LIFO) principle.
Hassan Jelayta, a union member who has worked in the garage for 18 years, suffered a stroke in June 2014 and spent seven months on sick-leave. Recently, he has been declared fit for work by an Israeli occupational health clinic. Despite the fact that he had been sent to the clinic by his employer, he has now been refused permission to return to work, and has effectively been dismissed without due process.
A crucial National Labour Court session about WAC-MAAN’s status:
On April 21, 2015 the National Labour Court is due to hold a crucial session that will deal with the appeal by Zarfati Garage against the right of WAC-MAAN to represent its workers. Moreover Zarfati claims that WAC-MAAN is not a legal workers’ union, but a political organisation opposed to the Occupation, and that therefore it should be banned from union activity in this area and in Israel as a whole.
This challenge to the legal standing of WAC-MAAN has very wide implications. WAC-MAAN freely admits that it is opposed to the Occupation and supports a political solution to the conflict, based on two independent states. However, as such a solution is far from imminent, WAC-MAAN continues in the meantime to support the struggle of Palestinian workers who are employed by Israelis in the settlements under conditions of extreme exploitation.
WAC-MAAN is represented in Labour Court by Adv. Aya Bartenstein, its legal adviser, and by Adv. Moran Savorai and Amir Basha of the Benni Cohen Law office, a leading firm in the field of labour relations. Adv. Michal Pomerantz represented Hatem Abu Ziadeh in the appeal that dealt with the question of the work permit and the police investigation against him.
WAC-MAAN faces a major challenge in this case. It believes that it is its duty to establish the rights of Palestinian workers in Settlement areas to organise and to receive union representation and legal protection in the same way as every other group of workers. It is also determined to prove its own right to represent workers as an important dynamic workers’ centre for both Jewish and Arab workers in Israel.
A campaign of solidarity with Zarfati workers was initiated by WAC-MAAN in August 2014. As part of this campaign, 8,400 emails were sent to the Zarfati management and to legal institutions in Israel through the Labourstart network. The emails demanded the reinstatement of the dismissed union representative and the recognition of WAC-MAAN as representative of the workers. WAC-MAAN continues to request that unions around the world assist it in its struggle to give Palestinian workers in Settlement areas the right to organise without impediment.
Roni Ben Efrat – WAC-MAAN international office