In West Bank industrial zone, everything is Israeli – except the harsh labor laws

<p>Published on on June 5 2015 by  Tali Heruti Sover. Set up at the start of the Oslo process, Nitzanei Shalom employs hundreds of Palestinians and is run according to Israeli standards, with one glaring exception</p>

The one exception to Jordanian labor law is the minimum wage, which throughout the West Bank is based on the Israeli standard, so that even in the twilight zone of Nitzanei Shalom, most Palestinian earn that or something close to it.

But there are exceptions. A 2004 labor agreement at the Tal-El waste-recycling plant, which today employs 100 Palestinians, called for wages of 85 shekels (just over $22) a day, plus another 75 shekel a month for health insurance, at a time when the minimum wage was 3,355 shekels a month. The contract, which was obtained by TheMarker, was written in Hebrew.

At the Yamit Filtration & Water Treatment plant, workers struck for higher wages eight years ago. The result: Most say they are getting 160 shekels for an eight- or nine-hour day, even though the Israeli minimum wage is 25 shekels as hour.

Israeli workers in the same plants are employed under Israeli labor law. “I worked alongside Jews and they get one thing and I get another,” says Ahmad Hamdan Sheib, who worked at Yamit.

Along with two other Yamit employees, Abdul Hamid Yehieh and Mujahid Harsha, petitioned a labor court five years ago to get back wages they said were due them. For their troubles they were fired, getting little or no severance pay, and worse still, three years later the court ruled that Nitzanei Shalom was in fact not Israeli.

Yehieh and Harsha were ordered to cover the company’s 20,000 shekels in court costs.

Maan is helping the men appeal to the National Labor Court, and a decision is expected next month after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein offers an opinion about the industrial zone’s legal status. “The court erred, we believe, and we hope that the national court will correct that,” says Adiv. “We’re talking about an absurd situation where weaker workers are being exploited.”

Tul Karm’s 65,000 residents are poor even by West Bank standards, with monthly wages inside the city averaging 1,000 shekels or less. There are few jobs in the city and not many residents are permitted to cross the Green Line to work in Israel.

It seems employers are working to ensure that the twilight status of Nitzanei Shalom remains in force. Workers at Yamit say that about six weeks ago they were asked to sign a new document saying they agreed to work under Jordanian law. Tal-El has done the same.

Yamit defended its practice, noting that not only workers but managers at the plant are Palestinian, and that labor relations are “excellent.”

“All employees, without exemption, get wages above the minimum and even a lot higher,” the company said in a statement. “Workers are employed under a collective agreement they agreed to after negotiations that says the relevant law is Jordanian. In practice, workers work under a system that integrates Jordanian laws and army directives, which imposes some Israeli legislation.”

Yamit said Jordanian law was not always inferior to Israeli law, noting for instance that workers are entitled to severance pay after just six months, and can demand the money after 15 years even if they continue to work. Tal-El declined repeated requests for comment.

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