Petition to High Court for compensation for Palestinians who lost their jobs in Israel due to Covid-19

WAC-MAAN assisted Kav Laoved and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in submitting a petition to the High Court on March 30, 2020, demanding that the Finance Ministry and […]

WAC-MAAN assisted Kav Laoved and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in submitting a petition to the High Court on March 30, 2020, demanding that the Finance Ministry and the Payment Division (in the Interior Ministry) compensate tens of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their work in Israeli businesses due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

The petition explains that, due to the crisis, most Palestinian workers who used to work in Israel were sent home. Israeli and Palestinian authorities have come to an arrangement that enabled some 50,000 Palestinians to continue to work and stay overnight inside Israel. However, lack of proper arrangements and other reasons resulted in the reduction of the number of workers who continue to stay in their work places in Israel. As of April 2 contractors estimate that only half of the original 50 thousands remain in the construction sites inside Israel.

This means that approximately 100,000 Palestinian workers who used to earn their living while working for Israeli employers inside Israel and in the settlements are out of work. These workers who are not covered by any social security regulation are the subject of the petition.

Among the 100,000 who are unemployed today there are those who did not have a proper arrangement to stay inside their workplaces, 8,700 residents of Bethlehem and the surrounding area, which had been in lockdown since the beginning of March; thousands of workers above the age of 50 who have been barred from entry to their work just because of their age; workers who have been sent home due to a reduction in operations at their workplaces or closure of businesses; and thousands of women employed in industrial plants who are unable to participate in the work and sleeping arrangements.

The petition notes that while the authorities took steps to help Israeli workers affected by the crisis to get unemployment benefit, and eased the terms and conditions to get the benefits, Palestinian workers – who have a crucial role in the Israeli economy – have been granted no assistance and left without an income.

WAC-MAAN represents Palestinian workers and handles many claims. A statement from the organization’s Executive Director was appended to the petition, outlining the harsh reality of Palestinian workers whose wages are crucial to extended families and communities, and who are now in despair. (see below the workers‘ testimonies that were presented to the Court)

The petition refers to the NIS 515 million (about $141 million), that has accumulated in the Sick Pay Fund of the government’s Payments Division during the last decades, when Palestinians were unable to claim paid sick leave. A petition submitted by Kav Laoved and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, regarding the obligation to use this sum for the benefit of the workers, has been with the High Court since 2016. Despite a number of Court sessions since then, the court has still not decided how to use this sum in keeping with its purpose – compensation for Palestinian workers for days lost to sickness.

The new petition asserts that the current situation is a fitting opportunity to use these funds as intended, to assist the Palestinians who find themselves without income or any other support.

The Appeal

The appeal to the Supreme Court included an affidavit by WAC MAAN Executive Director Assaf Adiv. In his affidavit Adiv explained that the union published in its facebook page several posts with information on the situation of Palestinian workers. These posts got distributed widely (80,000-100,000 views and thousands of likes) and as a result many workers had approached WAC MAAN’s offices to get advice.  

Four testimonies of workers, collected by WAC, were published in the Affidavit. These cases clearly illustrate the difficult situation many people find themselves in currently:

  • Yusef Hatib, resident of the town Aqraba, near Nablus, 32 years old, married with two children. In addition to supporting his family, Yusef also helps his parents who live nearby. His father has a heart condition and diabetes, and has undergone catheterization. For the last three years, Yusef has worked as head chef at a hotel in Natanya, and for two years before he worked at a factory in Jerusalem. He has been out of work since March 15, 2020. As the hotel closed its activity he got a letter of unpaid leave for an unspecified period. Yusef is very concerned since there is nobody able to assist him, and he has no idea how to support his family and parents.
  • Muatasem Jaber, resident of Beitunia, near Ramallah, 31 years old, married with three children. Muatasem lives in a rented apartment. For the last six years he worked in a Jerusalem factory for a low wage, just NIS 23 (about $6.30) per hour, for 12-14 hours a day. However, these long hours were not acknowledged on his pay slip. In a typical month, he worked 300 hours and earned just NIS 5,000 ($1,377). Due to the pandemic, he was told that in order to continue working he would have to sleep at the factory, and that if he refused he would lose his work permit. Muatasem refused, fearing to leave his family alone. He also knew that he would not be able to return to them later because public transport had been stopped following the lockdown in the West Bank imposed by the Palestinian Authority. Now the family has no source of income, and they are being compelled to take loans from relatives.
  • Issam Al-Atrash, resident of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, 64 years old. Issam, whose income supports his wife and daughter, worked for many years in industry and construction in Israel and has been with the same employer since 2016. He has a valid entry permit (to Israel) and his employer would like him to return to work. However, since the lockdown imposed on Bethlehem, including Beit Sahour, Issam has been unable to leave. He is also above the age of 50 and thus prevented from entering Israel. Issam is very worried about the future. He has hardly worked in March and has no idea what he will do in April. He has no bank account and no savings. His family has no way of surviving without his work, and the Palestinian Authority is not assisting those who work in Israel. He receives nothing from the food parcels distributed in Beit Sahour because it is assumed he is managing since he worked in Israel. However, he and his family are struggling.
  • Mohammed Rashed, resident of Yatta, near Hebron, 39 years old, married with six children. Mohammed has worked at a construction company since 2016, and before that with other companies in Israel for a total of eight years. During this period he has been sick but never received sickness pay from the government’s Payment Division. Since the closure that was imposed in the middle of March he had worked near Beer Sheva. His employer has arranged a good place for him and other workers to stay, but he feels he is endangering himself and abandoning his family in this unsettled time. He would prefer to stay with his wife and children instead of working, and would do this if he were to receive even just one third of his wages (NIS 2,000-2,500, or $550-680). Mohammed is worried that if he enters Israel, when he returns,  he will have to be isolated for 14 days, in keeping with the Palestinian Authority directive, which means another fortnight without wages. Currently he is adamant that the only reason he risks going to work and leaving his family is that without his wages they will have nothing to live on.

Translated by Yonatan Preminger

אודות Wac-Maan