For years, Palestinians toiling in the industrial zones of West Bank settlements have been subject to exploitation and denial of their rights. A collective agreement signed on February 14, 2017 proves that another way is possible. In this precedential step, the Zarfati Garage signed a collective agreement with WAC-MAAN which covers all 75 workers at the plant and compensates the Palestinians among them for the previous period, when their rights had been denied. Zarfati is one of the largest repair garages in Mishor Adumim, an industrial zone in Area “C” of the West Bank.
The agreement, reached after three years of disputes, strikes, and legal suits, covers workers at Zarfati for the next four years. It ensures that they receive full peripheral benefits, including annual wage increases and professional ranking; it determines payments for Jewish and Muslim holidays; and it outlines a framework for settling future disputes. It also includes an important stipulation that compensation for the previous period will be paid to senior workers within three years.
Garage director Morris Zarfati, WAC-MAAN National Director Assaf Adiv, and Workers’ Committee Chairperson, Hatem Abu Ziadeh, signed the agreement after an arbitration process overseen with great skill and wisdom by retired Justice Ornit Agassi. Representing Zarfati was Attorney Yaron Eliram. Representing WAC-MAAN and the workers were Attorneys Gilad Zvidam, Aya Bartenstein, Amir Basha, and Moran Savurai.
Zarfati Garage was established in the 1980s in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. For years it has employed West Bank Palestinians who have work permits issued by the Israeli Civil Administration of the Occupied Territories. These workers, along with 30,000 others, could be exploited because their workplaces, which are outside Israel’s sovereign territory, were beyond effective labor regulation. A groundbreaking High Court ruling of 2007, known as the “Givat Zeev” case, determined that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in the settlements are subject to Israeli labor law. This ruling changed the situation of these workers completely. The Zarfati agreement was made possible by it.
In 2013, the workers at the garage unionized with WAC-MAAN, and over 40 joined. WAC-MAAN declared its representative status, and in September that year negotiations with management began. At the same time, for about half a year, the garage improved employment terms considerably. From January 2014, it has been paying at least minimum wage, plus vacation, travel and sick pay, and has made pension fund contributions and convalescence pay, all as required by law.
But the workers and their union also demanded payment for back years without the minimum wage, annual wage increases, or professional ranking. The Zarfati owners created a crisis. In July 2014, they fired the chair of the Workers’ Committee, Hatem Abu Ziadeh. The management claimed he had sabotaged a military vehicle on which he had worked, but the claims, filed with the police, were proven false. This led to legal disputes which ended in a regional labor court decision in February 2016, ruling that the garage must reinstate Abu Ziadeh. An appeal against this decision was heard by the National Labor Court and rejected. In May 2016—21 months after being dismissed—Abu Ziadeh was reinstated.
Upon his return, negotiations were taken up again with assistance through arbitration. The resulting agreement is the first to be signed with Palestinian workers in the settlements of the West Bank. As such it sets a precedent which will no doubt be studied by other Palestinian workers who still labor under exploitative conditions in Area C.
Translation: Yonatan Preminger