Fayad warns civil servants against striking

Palestinian PM trying to keep government spending low in exchange for a massive injection of foreign aid.

Fayad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Fayad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian prime minister challenged the powerful civil servants' union Thursday, saying he'd dock the pay of union members who participate in strikes. The union has held repeated warning strikes in recent months, calling for wage increases. Union leaders said Thursday they would not back down. Prime Minister Salaam Fayad has been trying to keep down government spending, at a time when donor countries demand cost-cutting and efficiency in exchange for a massive injection of foreign aid. In December, Fayyad won pledges totaling $7.7 billion over three years in aid from the international community. In the past, donors have balked at the idea of wage increases for the 82,000 civil servants in the West Bank and Gaza. The bloated public payroll also includes tens of thousands of members of the security forces. Fayad announced after a special Cabinet on Thursday that employees would not be paid when on strike. He said he would not even consider salary increases because of widespread unemployment and poverty. "We have hundreds of thousands of unemployed who need the help of the Palestinian Authority, particularly in Gaza," he said. "There is a need to expand the social safety net and development projects that the government started last year." Analysts said that a growing conflict between Fayad's government and the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is contributing to the tensions. Leading Fatah members have complained privately about being kept out of Fayad's government, which largely consists of independents. Fayad, an internationally respected economist, is a political independent. "There are some in Fatah that want to remove this government or parts of it, and replace it," said Khalil Shaheen, a writer in the Al Ayyam daily. "Their interests have met with those of civil servants trying to increase their salaries, and that's why we see the strike today." Union leaders said they would meet Saturday to decide on their next move. Fatah legislator Abdullah Abdullah said Fayad "made a huge mistake" by threatening the unions, and that he had no right to strip civil servants of their right to strike. However, he denied that some in Fatah were trying to undermine Fayad. "If we want to topple the government, then we pressure President Abbas, because he is the one in charge of changing it," Abdullah said.