Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel's controversial barrier in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of A-tur.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The National Labor Court on Sunday denied three Palestinians who work in a factory in the Nitzanei Shalom industrial area near Tulkarm equal work conditions to Israelis in a ruling that may have implications for both Israeli-Palestinian work relations and the diplomatic process.
The court ruled that the factory’s location is essentially a legal no-man’s-land because of its special circumstances. The case concerned whether the Palestinian workers’ legal rights should be determined by Israeli law or 1967 Jordanian law, as the industrial workspace is located in Area C of the West Bank.
International law stipulates that an “occupying country” is supposed to apply the law that already existed to the local population before it came under its rule. Israel has always taken the position that Jordanian law applies to Palestinians in a wide variety of areas since it conquered the West Bank from it in 1967.
Despite the state’s position, the High Court of Justice issued a 2007 ruling stating that Palestinians who lived in the West Bank but worked for Israelis in the Givat Ze’ev settlement were entitled to the same work conditions as Israelis. This included pay, vacation days and termination pay. The precedent spurred hopes for the Palestinian workers, and their supporters at Combatants for Peace and the Wac-Maan Workers Advice Center, that the court would adopt a similar position in this case. The court ruled for the employers in this case, however, because it said that the industrial zone near Tulkarm, where the factory is situated, falls into a special category because it is part of a joint effort agreed under the Oslo Accords. The purpose of that agreement was to supply jobs to Palestinians. For that reason the court ruled that Jordanian, not Israeli law, should apply.
Addressing the pay comparison issue, the court noted that out of 100 workers, only three were Israeli and that they were in special roles. For that reason, it ruled that the Palestinians could not claim pay discrimination.
The court also noted that the Palestinians had signed contracts accepting that Jordanian law would apply to them and added that since 2008 they were receiving the same minimum wage as Israelis, even if some of the vacation and severance rights differed.
Responding to the decision, Wac-Maan national director Assaf Adiv said the court’s decision was a “mistaken decision,” claiming that the court “threw the workers down the stairs.” He said that the ruling “shows a lack of understanding of the reality on the ground,” including regarding the “existing relations between the Israeli employers and the Palestinian employees.”
Adiv claimed that the court’s message to the Palestinian workers is that there is no justice for them. He said that the Palestinians were not receiving their full rights under Jordanian law since without court involvement the employers were doing whatever they wanted. He added that the workers were “seriously considering” appealing the issue to the High Court of Justice, but was noncommittal on whether a final decision to appeal or not had been taken.
The workers’ lawyer, Shahar Hoffman, said last week that the IDF has only recently been issuing orders to liberalize certain labor laws for Palestinians in order to “catch up” to comparable Israeli law. The Palestinian workers in this case, whose claim dates to 2010, therefore have not benefited from the new legal trend.
National Labor Court President Yigal Plitman seemed to accept the premise that this case – involving solely Palestinian workers – was legally different than the 2007 case involving both Israeli and Palestinian employees.
The Palestinians’ lawyers argued that the key distinction should not be the mix of employees, but rather the fact that the employer was Israeli and that the area is under Israeli military control in Area C of the West Bank where the PA has no jurisdiction.
Lawyer Ehud Shiloni slammed the labor court ruling, saying that the decision essentially amounted to saying that “you [the Palestinian workers] should be judged according to a law which does not apply anywhere in the world: the 1967 Jordanian labor law that has not applied in Jordan for a long time.”
Shiloni added that both Israeli and current Jordanian law are much more modern and favorable for workers.
A spokeswoman for Combatants for Peace said that if the court fails to apply Israeli law to the industrial zone, it will continue to be a legal no-man’s-land in which chemicals and other pollutants are dumped in a way that harms the environment.
She claimed the employers there came to the area knowing they could exploit legal loopholes to avoid taxes, environmental laws and workers’ rights laws.