The National Labour Court is to hear today 14 July, an appeal that was launched by Palestinian workers against the lower court’s decision that Palestinians working in the Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone are subject to exploitative Jordanian Law.
A protest vigil will be held by Combatants for Peace and WAC-MAAN workers’ union in front of the Court house, 20 Kerren Hayesod St, Jerusalem. Their demand is to end the shameful exploitation of Palestinian workers through illegal application of Jordanian Law and in contravention of Supreme Court precedent.
The appeal hearing will be chaired by President Judge Yigal Fleetman on Tuesday 14th July at 10.30 a.m. The appellants are three workers in Yamit Sinun factory in Nitsanei Shalom Industrial Zone near Tul Karrem. Representing them is Lawyer, Ehud Shillony, and WAC-MAAN workers’ union. The appeal is against a judgement of the Regional Labour Court from November 2013 in which Judge Ornit Agassi ruled that Jordanian Law applies in this Zoneof the occupied West Bank. The appellants claim that Nitsanei Shalom Industrial Zone is a West Bank area under Israeli control and as such is subject to the Supreme Court decision of 2007 (Givat Zeev). The Supreme Court ruled that Israeli employers within Israeli enclaves in the West Bank must employ Palestinians in accordance with Israel’s Labour Law.
Why would Israeli employers wish to apply Jordanian Law? Simply, it enables them to pay their employees much less. For instance, under Jordanian Law there is no obligation on employers to make pension contributions or pay sick-leave after the third day. It also specifies maximum 21 days leave per annum, which does not increase with seniority as it does under Israeli Law. The biggest difference is in severance pay, which is significantly lower under Jordanian Law.
In 2010 the three appellants had worked in the factory for 7-10 years, receiving low pay (often below the minimum wage, without pension contributions, token severance pay and at most 21 days off per annum) and without benefits. They decided to sue their employers for the differences in salary and other benefits in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling. In response, they were dismissed without a hearing. In November 2013 Judge Agassi ruled that Jordanian Law applied in the area. In addition to losing their suit they were required to pay NIS 20,000 to cover the employer’s costs.
About 700 Palestinians work in factories in the Nitsanei Shalom Industrial Zone, which was established 30 years ago near Tul Karrem. The attempt to exclude these factories from the Supreme Court’s ruling and to claim that the Industrial Zone is not under Israel’s control is flawed: Nitsanei Shalom is under the regional Israeli inspectorate; the factory owners, managers and administrators are Israeli citizens; commercial goods and raw materials come to and from Israel; and work permits are issued to Palestinians after security checks.
In addition, excluding the industrial zone from inspection authorities has enabled factories to avoid responsible sewage disposal, despite their claims that they are environmentally friendly.
Following the appeal, factory owners such as Tal-El Collection and Recycling now require all Palestinian workers to sign a document in which they relinquish their rights under Israeli Labour Law, and declare that they agree to be employed under Jordanian Law which dates back to 1965. This is a blatant attempt to avoid any changes which would result from the appeal’s success, and to use this “agreement” as an excuse for continued exploitation of their workers.
As Tal El factory for recycling works in collaboration with many Municipalities and as a tool to pressure this company and others to respect workers rights, WAC-MAAN and and Combatants for Peace initiated a letter that was sent to a number of mayors on 28th June this year demanding them to stop their links with exploitative company. They wrote: “Despite the fact that the Industrial Zone was built as a model of regional cooperation, it has now become one of the outstanding symbols of shameful exploitation, of environmental pollution and of disregard for human rights.”