Tuesday – May 18 2010 – Kawther Salam – For the second consecutive day, a comprehensive general strike has paralyzed all facilities of the international relief agency UNRWA in southern and northern cities towns, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank. The strike is in protest against the “employment terrorism” being waged against Arab employees by the new Italian Commissioner-General Director of the UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, and the continued violations by UNRWA headquarters of the fundamental and basic rights of the employees.
The strike, which started yesterday Monday in the southern cities of the West Bank, and continued today with the addition of the northern region of Palestine, involves the department of education and the health sector services, which affects tens of thousands students and all the patients who visit the health facilities every day. At the same time, hundreds of workers declined to fulfill their jobs in the UNRWA in protest against the arbitrary and irrational policies which Filippo Grandi tries to impose by force on the staff and which are contrary to the regulations and applicable laws in the UNRWA. UN staff have described Mr. Grandi as “an enemy of workers”.
The strike of the employees was carried out under the instructions of the Arab Worker Union in UNRWA in the West Bank by about 5.000 staff members, who are almost completely unionized. The strike was declared following an “uncooperative” meeting which lasted for six hours on last Thursday May 13 2010 between Dr. Ibrahim Al-Akhras, a union delegate, and Barbara Shenstone, UNWRA operations and human resources director in the West Bank. The negative outcome of the meeting was due to the intransigence on part of Ms. Shenstone, who ignored the union demands and is trying to impose a laundry list of disadvantageous working conditions against the employees.
Dr. Shaker Al-Risheq, head of the Employees Union at the UNRWA in the West Bank stated that the strike is more than a warning step. It is a massive strike to be followed by several more steps. He said that a general strike will be followed on Wednesday, May 19 2010. A similar strike in the central region will also be held on May 19 2010. On May 20 2010, a strike will paralyze the UN headquarters presidency at Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. (Click on pictures to make them bigger).
Mr. Al-Risheq said that the strike steps are a protest in reaction to the “police state” measures and investigations taken by the UNRWA administration against the employees, in which they have interrogated employees because they voted during the elections of the employees union elections. The interrogation were held under the pretext that the employees had left their work for one hour in order to vote.
Al-Risheq clarified that stopping work for an hour to vote in union elections has been an annual tradition in UNRWA for fifty years, and that after that the staff returns to their work without that ever the administration has questioned, investigated or or otherwise taken action against them. He said that the negative stance of Mr. Grandi towards the UNRWA staff and union elections is a threat to the employees and a violation of their rights. He noted that the activity of Mr. Grandi is associated with a policy of rapid cuts in services provided by UNRWA towards the population.
The office of the Mr. Grandi claimed that the workers strike was a reaction to the dismissal of the director of the Shuafat School for Boys after he allegedly beat a student there.
The spokesman of the UNRWA staff union, Mr. Farid Al-Meseni, considered the decision of dismissing the school director of Shuafat as deliberate and arbitrary, especially as there exists evidence which proves that the director of the school was not involved in assaulting a student.
The UNRWA staff union issued a statement in which they deny the allegation of Mr. Grandi as specious. The statement says: “The UNRWA management is spreading false rumors around the problem of the staff rights. The office of the director has invented that the strike is caused by the dismissal of a teacher from the Shuafat School for Boys. The teacher was dismissed because of allegedly beating one of the children”.
The staff union said that the dismissed person was the director of the school, Ayman Al-Romhi, and not a teacher. They further state that the dismissal of the director is based on trumped up charges and is illegal. “Our problem as UNRWA employees came after the salaries of 1100 employees were reduced by a half-day because these employees exercised their democratic right to hold union elections. This is deliberate contempt and disrespect against the staff and their union representatives”.
The statement stressed that the demands of the employees union are clear:
- – Revocation of the dismissal of Ayman Al-Romhi from the Shuafat school.
- – Establishment a committee to implement the technical instructions regarding corporal punishment in the schools.
- – Make all possible efforts to build trust and confidence between staff and UNRWA management in the West Bank.
- – Return the deducted funds from the salaries of staff.
- – The UNRWA should end their abusive “police-state” methods of dealing with the staff.
- – To keep the regulation and the laws which concern the staff union elections and the right of vote by the staff like they have been since 50 years.
- – Obtain written guarantees that the UNRWA will not practice terrorism against the careers of the employees.
- – To form a joint committee of the various interests to ensure implementation of a program concerning reclassification and promotions on basis of actual achievement of justice for all the active categories in the UNRWA.
- – The UNRWA must apologize to the female teacher which was taken by force from her place of work, being dragged out of her classroom in front of her colleagues and students and bodily forced by UNRWA management to explain why she had voted at the union elections.