An Israeli industrial park is a wild West Bank for labor rights

Written by Tali Heruti Sover, The Marker, May 11, 2013 Imagine the following scenario: Five men in a small room are applying heat-resistant paint to aluminum products. The room isn’t...

Written by Tali Heruti Sover, The Marker, May 11, 2013
Imagine the following scenario: Five men in a small room are applying heat-resistant paint to aluminum products. The room isn’t ventilated, and the workers have no masks. They know this isn’t either healthy or safe for them, but they’re not complaining.

And imagine this: Forty workers at an industrial complex in the desert. They have one small refrigerator at their disposal. The cold water runs out after an hour. For the rest of the workday, they drink tap water from a pipe outside.

And how about this: The worker gets paid at the end of the month NIS 90 for every day he worked. The minimum wage is NIS 23 an hour, mind you. There’s no pay slip, no social benefits, no sick days or vacation.

He cashes the check with a man who charges him a 2% commission. Sometimes he asks for a NIS 500 advance, and the boss charges him NIS 1,000 at the end of the month − simply because he can. The boss also under-reports the hours worked, writing eight instead of 10. If the employee is sick, he’ll be charged NIS 20 for the ride he missed, since his seat was left empty. If he stands up for his rights, he’ll be fired on the spot.

At the Adumim Industrial Park, which is within the Ma’aleh Adumim municipal boundaries, most of the factories and businesses are Israeli-owned. The workers are Palestinian − from Jericho, Abu Dis and other communities near Jerusalem. Israeli inspectors don’t go there.

“They’re taking advantage of us simply because they can,” says Abdallah ‏(not his real name‏) from Jericho. “The bosses’ favorite statement is ‘Go to Palestine.’ They know that in Palestine workers are paid NIS 50 a day, so NIS 90 a day is a lot of money. We also know that Israeli law, which should apply here, too, is not being observed. We work in Israel and want to be given what we’re owed, no more and no less.”
Unionizing

The workers’ rights organization Ma’an recently launched a campaign in the industrial zone. “Workers are contacting us and telling us about incidents that are repeated over and over,” says Assaf Adiv, the organization’s director. “It’s always a gross exploitation of worker rights. As a representative organization, we want to help create a union to formalize the employees’ conduct with management. Because of the history of this place, this isn’t a simple process.”

The industrial park was created in 1998 and is managed by the Ma’aleh Adumim Economic Development Corporation. While it contains some large factories such as SodaStream, most of the businesses there are small workshops in industries such as aluminum profiles, woodworking and textiles.

It sits on the seam line between Israel and the Palestinian territories, putting it in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civil control. This means that the Palestinians need permits to work there. As far as the employers are concerned, though, they’re outside the law.

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