UNRWA in Jordan employees go on strike to demand pay raises

Employees of UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees cites declining US Dollar, rising fuel costs

UNRWA 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNRWA 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
About 7,000 United Nations employees staged a strike in Jordan on Monday, demanding pay raises to meet a 50-percent spike in food and fuel prices in the kingdom and high inflation across the Middle East. The one-day protest forced the closure of 177 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which serve more than 120,000 Palestinian boys and girls under the age of 14. UNRWA's 24 clinics across the country were run by skeleton staff. "The strike certainly disrupted UNRWA's services in Jordan today," said UNRWA's Jordan spokesman Matar Saqer. UNRWA - which was created after the first Arab-Israeli war over the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 - provides Palestinian refugees with basic and vocational education, primary health care and relief and social services. It now cares for 4.4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Of the total refugees, Jordan hosts the largest number - 1.8 million Palestinians - displaced in two wars with Israel since 1948. A spokesman for the mainly Jordanian and Palestinian strikers said they demanded higher salaries to cover price increases due to the devaluating US dollar and rising fuel prices. "We can barely make ends meet in view of the high prices," said one of the workers, an UNRWA teacher who earns a monthly salary of 500 Jordanian Dinars (US$704). He insisted on anonymity out of fear he might lose his job. "We asked our management to follow the lead of the Jordanian government, which gave several raises to civil servants to help them cope with the rising inflation and the skyrocketing prices," he said. He said UNRWA workers sought several incremental raises, including a one-time raise of US$500. If UNRWA does not meet the workers' demands, they will stage an indefinite strike starting next Monday, the teacher said. Saqer, the UNRWA spokesman, said the "escalation and threats won't bring about an appropriate solution." "We appreciate our employees' performance and dedication, but UNRWA asserts that dialogue is the best way for resolving outstanding issues," he said. Saqer said UNRWA has already increased workers' salaries at least twice in the last nine months, but was unable to do more because of its own increased expenditures, and an envisaged deficit of US$38 million in its 2008 budget of US$541.8 million. In the last two years, prices of all commodities including fuel, food and housing rose sharply in Jordan. The government raised fuel prices at least six times in the last two years, the last time three weeks ago. Jordan's economic troubles are in line with rising prices, food shortages and high inflation across the Middle East and the developing world. In February, the price of some crude oil products rose by 111 percent, forcing a 30 percent increase in Jordan's public transportation tariffs. Electricity prices have also gone up by at least 30 percent. The International Monetary Fund estimates inflation in Jordan at 9 percent this year, although unofficial estimates put it at 30 percent. Inflation was set at 5.4 percent last year.