Sunday 30 October – Saturday 5th November 2022
BITUD took its delegation of 2022 to Israel and Palestine, with Community Union, the Prison Officers’ Association trade union, the First Division Association (FDA), shop workers union Usdaw.
Our delegations aim is to meet with sister trade unionists in Israel and Palestine, as well a Labor Party representatives, social action groups and peace activists. This gives trade union delegates a flavour of BITUD’s support for progressives in the region.
Monday 31 October
The Histadrut Headquarters, Tel Aviv
The first morning of the delegation, we travelled to the impressive headquarters of the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) for a morning of briefings with our colleagues, hosted by the Director General of the Histadrut’s International Department, Peter Lerner. We discussed organising in Israel and compared how we both work at recruitment in Israel, the UK and we discussed the big issues currently affecting workers. This included pension provisions as well as health and safety in construction.
We were briefed by our long-term friend, Avital Shapira on the international work of the Histadrut and in particular the relationship with the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). It was interesting to learn that their agreement to represent Palestinian workers in Israel, while also paying their unions subscriptions back to the PGFTU is continuing and thriving.
Later the delegation met with the Histadrut's economist Hila Shinok, who outlined the Histadrut's pay agreements that have exceeded the minimum wage in low wage sectors. Thay have also been campaigning for an increase in the minimum wage by 3.5% although this legislation fell through.
The group later had dinner with the Ucapse and IUGE public sector trade unions.
Tuesday 1 November
Ramallah and the PGFTU
An early start to drive into the West Bank to meet our sister organisation, the PGFTU in the city of Ramallah. This was election day in Israel, which is a bank holiday to encourage people to vote.
The discussion began with a list of statistics in Palestine from our hosts. There are 1.2 million workers in Palestine and 180 thousand of them are PGFTU members, split at 70 pc men and 30 pc women. Unemployment is around 35 pc for the West Bank whilst 60 pc in Gaza. They spoke about the checkpoints and other obstacles they face and how a peace agreement would solve a lot of their problems, especially around access and movement.
They are also facing a brain drain, with a highly educated youth looking abroad for work and career opportunities. The issue of the relationship with the Histadrut was raised and they wished the Histadrut well and said that they do work with them on representation of Palestinian workers in Israel as per their agreement. There was also the problems of agents working on both the Palestinian and Israeli side who were expoliting workers going into Israel and takig a large percentage of their wages. This needs takling by union on both sides.
The PGFTU had also been working hard for the social security law to provide better benefits for Palestinians on a range of areas. This is a long process and battle with the PA who have carried out a misinformation campaign against it. They would want support from UK unions to support this initiative.
Later on we were privilidged to meet with Jonathan Cummings, who is an adviser to Merav Michaeli, the leader of the Israeli Labor Party, who was busy with the general election that day. He gave a brief overview of election and Labor's chances and the possible makeup of the next coalition government. It looked like difficult times with the possibility of a far right government being formed under Netanyahu but we still had a lot to fight for.
Wednesday 2 November
An early start for our day in Jerusalem.
We drove to Jerusalem and first drove through the east of the city to visit the magnificent views from the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City. We then visited the Church of Gethsemane.
Our guide took the group around the Old City in Jerusalem. Visiting one of the most historical places in the world. We visited the Jewish, Arab, Armenian and Christian quarters and visited many churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall.
After lunch followed and then we travelled to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem. This is a significant point in the delegation, where the full scale of the Holocaust has been recorded within an extensive exhibition.
The museum was established in 1953 and documents the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The new Holocaust history museum was opened in 2005 and makes Yad Vashem the largest Holocaust museum in the world
Thursday 4 November
A journey back to Jerusalem to meet with repersetatives of the Foreign Ministry whist the FDA delegate met her counterparts at the Israel museum whilst the POA delegate went on a prison visit.
On the way back we visited the Aminach furniture factory and had a tour of the site. An impresive familiy owned campany who exported all over the world. We spoke to several workers from the Palestinian community who came over each day to work and were represented by the Histadrut. We discussed their terms and conditions at the factory and support they get get from the trade union as well as the support from the company which included a mini bus service to and from the factory to a pick up point in the PA.
Finally we had a meeting with the British Ambassador to Israel, H.E Neil Wigan, who gave the UK's goverement's perspective on their work in Israel and their current relationship.
“This was a truly a fantastic experience. I didn’t know quite what to expect but it was certainly different from what I had read or heard about on the news and other sources”
Keith Jones, National Executive Member, Usdaw Union
The delegation included:
BITUD would like to thank the Histadrut, their Director General of the International Department Peter Lerner and International Officer Jasmin Wirth for co-ordinating the delegation, and all the unions for their hospitality.
We would also like to thank all the participating unions for their help and support.
BITUD takes British trade union delegations to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories to gain a first-hand understanding of the region and help develop stronger bonds between British, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists.
Telephone: 020 7222 4323
“I’m so glad that my Union sent me on this informative and enjoyable trip. I learnt so much about the region and the variety of meetings really got me to grips on the reality on the ground in Israel and Palestine. I can only recommend this to anyone trade unionists who want to know more about this fascinating region”
Gary Keogh, National Executive, Community Union
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