Ramallah, people fighting for social justice
Ramallah 10 May 2016 – In Ramallah, nearly two thousand people gathered to protest against the social security law. The demonstration started in the city centre to march past the Legislative Council building up to the ministry of public housing The protest has been called in opposition to a law that violates social and civic rights and engenders social injustice, favouring employers against employees. The demonstration, organised by the national committee formed to coordinate mobilization against the law, attracted workers of all different kinds, testifying how the opposition to the law unifies all strata of the population. The organisers say the participation would have been much bigger had the big companies not prevent their employees to join the demonstration.
For the third time this year, Palestinians protest against the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The Palestinian street has been boiling already because of the lack of support from the PNA to the youth lead riots that started in October, its incapacity to make any progress in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Yet, what sparked mass demonstrations since the beginning of the year have been the very laws issued by the Council of Ministers in February, and later on signed by the President Mahmoud Abbas. The law which promised to offer social security to workers in cases of maternity leave, disability and retirement, fails to address any of these issues.
The draft law was the result of the work of the committee established by the PA two years ago with the help of the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO). The law was issue for the protection of the private sectors workers, formerly not protected by any law. Despite the resistance of the trade unions, the law was initially presented to the Parliament in February. Nevertheless, as it is happening since 2006, the democratic procedures have been disregarded and the Parliament was not given any chance to discuss the law. Passed by presidential decree, eventually it entered into force in March. Different trade unions mobilised against the law, establishming of a national committee, formed by the New Unions, the Independent Unions, the Palestinian Progressive Labour Union Front – and autonomous unions of private businesses as well as the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO). The movement culminated in the mass demonstration in Ramallah in April.
Objections to the law are various. First of all, the social security law creates a fund held by a ‘security council’ nominated by the PA, that will have the status of a private company. There is no guarantee that the money of the fund will be invested in the country and/or to the benefit of the people. There are concerns that the private pension fund will declare the West Bank a high risk country and fiduciary duty would push the fund to invest the money abroad. The absence of compelling provisions regarding investments, undermines the capacity of the law to create a mechanism to reintegration of the unemployed in the labour market via government led policies and investments in creating new jobs. Moreover, the government does not give any guarantee for the investment of the money. In case the fund is lost due to a badly chosen investment, the government refuses to take any responsibility and workers would lose their benefits.
As for the different beneficiaries of the law, unemployed people and people affected by disability are excluded by the law, initially presented as a law intended to protect these two vulnerable social actors. The law also heavily discriminates against women. In case of death of a worker, the benefits gained throughout the years worked by the employee can be transferred to the family of the dead only if the latter is a man. In case of death of a woman the benefits will be lost. Concerning pregnancy and motherhood rights, a woman registering in the system at less than six months from the expected childbirth, will not have the right to maternity leave. Farmers and taxi drivers are not mentioned either.
The law at first has been presented as a way to protect workers affected by disability and retiring employees but fails to mention both. In the National development plan 2014-2016 of the PNA, it is stated that the government was to tackle the issue of social protection by creating a ‘rights-based, gender-sensitive and a more inclusive, integrated and sustainable social protection system to alleviate poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion’. Failing to meet their own goals and to fulfil their agenda, the PA has been harshly criticised by numerous trade unions and NGOs that eventually organised themselves in a national committee which is organising the protests against the law. After April’s demonstration in Ramallah, the committee was able to obtain a meeting with the members of the Parliament, which all agree that consensus must be reached within the Parliament itself in the first place. Negotiations are currently ongoing, with the national committee requesting the respect of basic Social and Civil Rights.