Palestinian agreement favors journalists amid coronavirus crisis

Government source: Agreement will hurt media outlets, should be withdrawn

A Palestinian man reads the Al-Quds newspaper depicting images newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem's Old City November 9, 2016 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A Palestinian man reads the Al-Quds newspaper depicting images newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem's Old City November 9, 2016
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and the Palestinian Authority’s Labor and Information ministries have signed an agreement to protect the employment rights of journalists and preserve the media establishment in the PA during the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
No journalists will be fired, nor will they be sent on forced leave or have their salary cut, according to the agreement, signed on Tuesday at the Labor Ministry.
A joint committee of representatives from the three parties to the agreement will oversee the rights of journalists working in the Palestinian territories, where a coronavirus state of emergency has been in effect since March 5.
Syndicate chairman Nasser Abu Baker urged journalists not to hesitate to notify the union if their rights are violated by employers.
“This agreement has been reached to protect you, your work and your interests,” he said.
Abu Baker stressed that the agreement was meant to ensure that the Palestinian media establishment remained viable.
“It’s the first agreement of its kind by a journalists’ syndicate anywhere in the world,” he stated, saying he would forward it other journalist unions for use as a framework for similar accords.
When the pact was reached, it was announced that all administrative procedures and decisions taken against journalists and other media employees since the declaration of the state of emergency would be put on hold until the new committee could evaluate the financial situation of each employer.
Wael Daya, a Palestinian financial expert and economic researcher, told The Media Line that media outlets firing legally employed workers were violating Palestinian labor laws, under which employers have to prove a lack of liquidity or otherwise difficult financial situation.
“The ministry then forms a technical committee to study the financial situation of the workplace in question,” he said.
Daya said employers had options other than firing staff, such as delaying salaries.
“The state of emergency… has forced citizens to remain in their homes, with pay, which is in accordance with the law,” he said.
When asked about journalists who work for foreign outlets, Daya said it “depends on the contract between the employee and the employer, as well as the law [of the country] that applies to the contract.”
He added that in times of financial crises of the type we are experiencing, governments, as well as international institutions and agencies, are supposed to support sectors that are hurt.
“Based on a study I conducted two days ago, the media sector, relatively speaking, hasn’t been affected – and it’s among the most essential,” he said.
Governments in the US and Israel have approved $2.2 trillion and $25 billion rescue packages, respectively, for businesses and individuals. This is in addition to the unemployment benefits being paid to those who have been laid off.
An anonymous source in the Palestinian Authority government told The Media Line that the agreement with the journalists’ syndicate was nothing new and that, by law, employers could fire workers during times of crisis.
“I do feel the employers will suffer, and the agreement should be canceled,” the source said, adding that no funds had been allocated to implement the pact.
Hiba Wazani, a Palestinian journalist and owner of the Raya Media Network, a service provider in the West Bank with about 40 employees, told The Media Line she would not fire staff although the network’s revenues had dropped by a quarter.
“We rely on the private market to use our marketing services, but companies and organizations stopped all of their campaigns because of the state of emergency declared in the country,” she said.
“We have a phased plan to deal with the situation, but I don’t know how long it will work,” she went on. “I might be able to pay [my employees] this month and next month, but the following month − I’m not sure.”
Wazani noted that if the situation remains unchanged, several media outlets could face bankruptcy.
“Let’s not forget that the medium- and small-sized enterprises and institutions employ about 70% of Palestinians, which creates a bigger issue,” she stated.
Maumar Orabi, the legal adviser for the Watan Media Network, told The Media Line that Watan, a non-profit, had made it clear since the beginning of the global crisis that employees would be paid in full and no one would be fired.
“We call [in our mission statement] for social justice and human values to be established,” he said. “Therefore, we can’t violate the rights of our staff by cutting their salaries.”
Orabi said the situation presented a huge challenge, although Watan had decided to stand by its employees and, if necessary, put in place austerity measures such as “reducing working days and reducing the use of transportation, electricity, water and other expenses.”
PA Labor Minister Maamoun Abu Shahla said that some media outlets had begun carrying out harsh measures against employees, raising the importance of reaching an agreement.
“The Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Labor Ministry have announced more than one decision benefiting employees, especially mothers…,” he said.
Abu Shahla stressed that the ministry’s Management and Inspection Committee would monitor implementation of the agreement and take any media outlet violating the law to court.
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