Government says it is unable to enforce labor laws for Palestinians

Justice Ministry delays extending workers’ rights to West Bank Arabs employed there by Israelis.

Construction worker in West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Construction worker in West Bank 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Justice Ministry will not be able to apply Israeli labor laws in the West Bank by the end of the year, despite a January 1 deadline, the Knesset Public Petitions Committee learned Tuesday.
In a meeting on Palestinian workers’ rights, Economy Ministry representative Riki Yehezkel explained that the ministry cannot check if Palestinian workers in Jewish businesses in the West Bank receive Israeli minimum wage, as required by law, because the Justice Ministry has yet to declare which other labor laws apply to the region.
Public Petitions Committee chairwoman MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid) expressed outrage at “government offices allowing clear violations of workers’ basic rights,” demanding that the situation be changed.
Palestinians working within the Green Line enjoy the same labor laws as Israelis; however, Israeli law does not generally apply to residents of Judea and Samaria, regardless of their ethnicity, and each law has to be applied individually by an order from the IDF, which governs the West Bank.
The government ordered the Justice Ministry to determine how the IDF will apply labor laws to the West Bank by January 1, but the ministry told the committee it is unable to do so in time.
One such law is maternity leave, which MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) tried to apply to the area via legislation, but was told would be put in the care of the ministry and the IDF, instead Following a 2007 court order, the minimum wage law is already supposed to apply.
“It cannot be that Palestinian laborers work under slave-like conditions just because ministries can’t handle the schedule they gave themselves,” Kol said.
Kol pointed to petitions she received from Palestinian workers, who say their employers require them to pay NIS 2,000 a month to receive work permits, even though the employers are supposed to pay the fee. The Economy and Trade Ministry said it hasn’t received any complaints on the matter.
Lt.-Col. Yair Maman, head of economic arrangements in the West Bank, said 52,000 Palestinians are given permits to work in sovereign Israel, some permanently and some seasonally for agriculture. In addition, another 33,000 work illegally. Within the West Bank, 25,000 Palestinians are employed by Israelis.
The average daily wage for a Palestinian worker is NIS 168.
“That number is based on the minimum wage they’re supposed to make,” MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said of the average salary. “Who’s enforcing it?” Yehezkel said, “The Economy Minister enforces minimum wage if it receives complaints, but does not initiate enforcement. Over the last two years we investigated 25 complaints over the Green Line, but the only labor law we can enforce is minimum wage.
Chana Zohar of the NGO Workers’ Hotline said: “Minimum wage law clearly applies to Palestinians and yet there’s a terrible situation in the Jordan Valley, where workers make NIS 8- 12 an hour without any other rights. One in four Palestinians pays his employer NIS 1,500-2,000 a month for work permits.”
Kol plans to send letters to the Justice and Defense Ministries to demand that they work more quickly to expand labor laws to Judea and Samaria, and will hold a follow-up meeting on the matter in a month.