A Palestinian refugee knocks on the closed gate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters with his walking stick.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The United Nations Relief Works Agency workers’ union in the West Bank threatened on Tuesday to hold a general strike, if the agency does not resolve its workers’ concerns.
“If UNRWA and its general commissioner do not address our problems, there is a strong possibility that we will hold a strike,” Misbah Abu Kishk, a member of the UNRWA workers union in the West Bank, told The Jerusalem Post.
UNRWA is the UN body responsible for providing services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Palestinian diaspora.
If the union holds a strike, the agency’s medical, educational, and administrative operations in the West Bank would be brought to a halt.
Abu Kishk said that the union’s primary demand is that the agency ensure its workers receive salaries of equal value to Palestinian Authority workers. “We don’t receive salaries equal to that of PA workers,” Abu Kishk stated. “We are merely asking for our right to be treated like other Palestinian workers.”
However, UNRWA officials challenged Abu Kishk’s statement on Tuesday, saying that they provide salaries equivalent to that of PA workers.
Kazem Abu Khalaf, an UNRWA public relations officer, told the Post that the agency “carries out a survey every two years to determine if there are differences between UNRWA and PA salaries.” He further stated: “When we find differences, we raise the salaries of our workers to a level comparable to PA salaries.”
Abu Khalaf added that the latest survey showed that UNRWA and PA employees receive comparable salaries, with the exception of medical workers, who he said subsequently received raises.
But when contacted a second time on Tuesday, Abu Kishk reiterated that PA and UNRWA workers do not receive equal salaries.
The Post was not able to assess the veracity of such claims with concrete information about the salaries in question.
Abu Kishk added the union’s second demand is that the agency hire additional workers for understaffed facilities. “There are many UNRWA facilities that do not have enough workers,” he stated. “For example, medical clinics have doctors who are doing both medical and administrative work. We need to make sure that they do their jobs under normal working conditions.”
Abu Khalaf responded, saying that UNRWA wants to lighten the burden of workers, especially medical workers, but is severely limited by its budget. “We understand and want to lighten the burden of our workers, but the truth is that we do not have the budget to increase the number of employees right now,” he said. “We are focusing on creative solutions, offering workshops to workers to increase efficiency and understand ways to manage multiple responsibilities.”
UNRWA has historically experienced budgetary shortfalls, but in the past year has faced an exceptionally wide funding gap of $74 million. According to Abu Khalaf, UNRWA’s general commissioner Pierre Krähenbühl nearly delayed the start of the school year in September because of budgetary shortfalls.
Nevertheless, Abu Kishk said the union plans to remain steadfast in its demands. “They have told us that there is a funding crisis. We understand that, but we need to achieve our legitimate rights as workers.
“As I said, we will strike, if it becomes necessary.”
UNRWA employs approximately 4,700 workers in the West Bank and operates in 27 refugee camps.